Villa target Hughes as Houllier departs
GERARD HOULLIER'S long-awaited departure from Aston Villa was finally confirmed last night, the club claiming an uncertainty over his health as the reason for his exit.
The Frenchman left with a sting in his tail, however, pointedly saying that he was "disappointed" not to have been allowed to continue next season.
Villa described his exit in an official statement as "by mutual consent" and "amicable", recalling how Houllier's dissection of the descending aorta and subsequent hospitalisation in April meant he missed the final five games of the season.
"Doctors have advised that he will require further time to recuperate," they said.
But the 63-year-old, who stepped into the breech last September in the wake of Martin O'Neill's resignation five days before the start of the season, countered that he had recovered "considerably" and had already begun preparing for pre-season. It is clear that he did not go of his own accord, and he added that he is considering returning to football.
"I am extremely disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to manage Aston Villa next season. My health has improved considerably," he said. "I now intend to take the next few months to concentrate on recuperating fully before I may return to football."
Now that Houllier's exit has been rubberstamped, Villa have confirmed that the search has begun for a new manager, with Mark Hughes pinpointed as their priority target.
Villa approached the Fulham manager's representatives to test the water some weeks ago, but the Cottagers remain determined to persuade Hughes to extend his contract at Craven Cottage.
Hughes signed a one-year contract at the end of last summer with the option for another 12 months, but could now trigger a break clause that would allow him to leave without compensation before the start of next season.
While Villa have a larger fan base and a more successful history, Fulham have proved themselves to be an upwardly mobile club with two finishes in the top 10 of the Premier League and a place in the final of the Europa League over the past three seasons. The chance to manage in the Europa League next season with Fulham is also an attraction.
Hughes, though, wants to be sure that Fulham can match his ambitions and it is understood that he has been frustrated at the delay in talks with his board. He is understood to be considering his future at the club, even if the opportunity to move to Villa comes to nothing.
Should they prove unsuccessful in poaching Hughes, Villa will turn to former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. (© Daily Telegraph, London)