It was late, and the ground was in almost complete darkness. The only light radiated from the sun lamps repairing the pitch in the far goalmouth. Alone on the back row of the Holt End, Villa Park, sat Larry Fredericks.
He thought of all the great players that had come through these doors. The games that had been won and lost, European Cup semi-finals, League championship deciders and more recently relegation battles.
Villa Park holds just under 43,000 people, you could fit both The Tychy Arena and Motherwell’s Fir Park inside it. This was a big club, the media said too big for a manager of Larry’s limited experience and the fans although not against Larry were skeptical.
Since relegation from the Premier League three years ago, The club had failed or even come close to a mounting a return. The topflight parachute payments had stopped and they were still harboring a wage bill of just over £750k a week. Over three million pounds a month going straight out of the door, Fredericks could see why The Chairman was desperate for his fortunes to turn around.
Looking at the squad, the first thing he noticed was how disjointed it was, plenty of talent but also plenty of deadwood and as a bonus, a few players in the academy with real star potential.
The board had made it clear – ‘Stay up and slash the wage bill.’
Dr. Xia has promised a good percentage of any money he recouped to invest on players of his own. With the January Transfer window just a few weeks away Larry had to start now with his plans for squad building.
Jonathon Kodija and Ross McCormack had been exiled by the last manager so Fredericks invited them back into the fold. From Day one Kodija had something to prove and really worked hard to catch the managers eye.
Ross McCormack, on the other hand, was a mess, overweight and not interested in playing first-team football, for £37,500 a week Fredericks had found where his ax would fall first.
The first game of the new regime would see ‘The Villains’ head to the capital and a very tough game against Fulham. Jonathon Kodija started in a front three and the attacking formation caught the home side a little off guard.
What a start. Fredericks had asked his team to stick to their given roles and they had done just that. Nobody could have predicted that result. A midfield three with the experience of Gardner, Lansbury and Glenn Whelan would be vital in their battle to move up the table.
One player had joined on a free transfer, after playing little to no football for 18 months Wayne Rooney was now desperate to get back out playing. For £8k a week Larry decided it couldn’t hurt to have him at the club until June.
The opening 6 games were the epitome of “New Manager Bounce’.
Out of the opening six, the Sunderland away game was the most enjoyable. Jonathon Kodija had repaid the faith shown in him and was already looking like a class above the rest of the division.
Terry Butcher hadn’t been around for this opening month. Larry’s long-serving Director of Football had been given a list of names that Fredericks wanted both in and out of the door at Villa Park and his task was to land those deals.
Some of the names like Ryan Munro (DC – Falkirk) and Liam Mandeville (SC – Doncaster Rovers) were players they had coveted whilst at Motherwell but both agreed they were more than capable of doing a job here.
Larry unfortunately also had to move players on, all of the below apart from Hourihane were made to leave under Fredericks watch, The Irishman had made the move to Mexico in the summer.
Larry had raised over £20 million pounds and shaved almost a quarter of a million off the wage bill. In their replace, younger and more importantly, for now, cheaper options had arrived.
All of the faces coming and going had had an adverse effect on the team and more importantly the results. The side were still scoring quite freely but defensively were not at the races, one thing was for sure the fans were getting their money worth watch Villa home and away.
Larry tried formations ranging from 5-3-2 to 3-4-3 and back again, Still the goals kept going in and the team struggled to move away from the bottom six.
Fredericks and Butcher went back to the drawing board. At Tychy, they had become hard to beat by playing just the one frontman and packing the middle of the park. The team had dominated the central areas of the playing surface, controlling all their play through the middle. This would be their formation once more.
On-loan midfielders, Connor Ronan and Cameron McGeehan would operate behind Kodija or Davis and then behind them three more defensively minded central midfielders would shut out anything that came their way. It wasn’t meant to be pretty but to be honest getting to the end of the season with their Championship status intact was all that mattered.
As it transpired that status was never in doubt. The players took to their new formation with ease and with Kodija on top form the Villans very nearly made a late dash for a top six finish.
I think it was safe to say that Larry was pleased with how the remaining games went. His new players had after a slow start come along heeps and bounds and after 4 long years for the Villa faithful, there were now some green shoots of revival on show.
The club although still losing money on a monthly basis weren’t any longer in critical financial trouble. Larry also knew that the release of Glenn Whelan, Ross McCormack and Wayne Rooney would free up another £85,000 of wages taking them, for the first time in decades below the £400,000k a week mark.
It would be a very busy summer for both Larry and Butcher. He had made a list of eleven summer targets he wanted, players both for the first team and the future.
Thiago Macedo, his Portuguese protege has already agreed to join on a free transfer from Benfica B, a signing he was delighted with. The tall frontman had been unstoppable in his time north of the border and Larry hoped he would do a similar job for him once more.
Then came a call from the Chairman, summoning Larry to the stadium and an emergency board meeting.
What happened next threw all of their plans out of the window and once again had him contemplating the exit door…