Football: Little goes after Ellis summons

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The Independent Online
BRIAN LITTLE'S troubled season with Aston Villa came to a premature and sensational end yesterday when he left his post as the club's manager.

Although it was first announced that Little had gone voluntarily, it later emerged that he may have been forced into resigning by the Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, who has sometimes enjoyed less than cordial relations with the procession of managers during his 23-year tenure at Villa Park and has earned the nickname of "Deadly".

Ellis read out a prepared statement yesterday evening, which was more telling for the things it did not mention. The Villa chairman did not say he made any attempt to persuade Little to stay. "I am sad and disappointed to announce that Brian Little has resigned as manager of Aston Villa forthwith," Ellis said.

"We are in the process of securing the services of another team manager, but in the meantime Allan Evans and the coaching staff of Kevin MacDonald, Tony McAndrew, Malcolm Beard and Paul Barron will be in charge. We wish Brian the best of luck in whatever he chooses to do in the future."

Ellis met Little early yesterday morning at the club's training ground, although it was thought that the chairman's main reason for being there was to have treatment on an injury he sustained playing tennis.

Later, Little turned up at Villa Park for an interview and at that point was apparently unaware of a summons from Ellis. He apologised to the journalist upon his arrival at Villa Park, saying he would be 30 minutes late for their talk.

When he did reappear, he was grim-faced and refused to answer any questions about what had happened in the meeting with Ellis, other than to say that any other comments would have to come from the chairman. He immediately left Villa Park, apparently shocked by the morning's events. Ellis also declined to make any further comment.

Little's departure comes after Villa's 2-1 defeat at Wimbledon on Saturday, which left the club 15th in the Premier League and facing a Uefa Cup quarter- final first leg at Atletico Madrid next Tuesday.

Only on Monday evening Little had received a standing ovation from a meeting of shareholders after he had a long and frank discussion with Villa supporters concerned about the club's position.

Last night, the chairman of the Aston Villa Shareholders' Association, Buck Chinn, said: "I feel very much that he has been hounded out and has not received the support he deserved from the club. Last night he spoke to a shareholders' association meeting and sat down to a standing ovation. He answered questions for over two hours. He needn't have, he could have refused. But he spoke frankly and openly about the club and his feelings here. I am completely shocked. I had no indication that this was going to happen."

Two former Villa players, Bruce Rioch and David Platt, head the list of possible candidates to succeed Little - himself a former player at the club - as manager. Rioch, a former Villa captain, has been out of the game since he was sacked as assistant manager of Queen's Park Rangers in November. He proved his managerial credentials during stints at Middlesbrough and Bolton, and in his one season with Arsenal, he took them into Europe.

Platt, a former England captain, knows that his days as a player at Highbury are coming to an end. The midfielder was linked with Southampton in the summer, but a return to the West Midlands for him would prove popular with Villa fans, especially as he was the inspiration behind the side which finished second in the League in 1990.

Ruud Gullit will presumably be looking for a new club after his recent acrimonious split with Chelsea, but his wage demands could prove a potential stumbling block. However, he was the popular choice of shocked fans congregating outside Villa Park last night.

Walter Smith, who is leaving Rangers in the summer, has expressed a desire to manage in the Premiership and may have the right credentials for Ellis. Villa, though, would have to wait until the end of the season to secure his services, which may count against him.

John Toshack has long been touted for a return to the English game after his success in the League with Swansea City. The former Real Madrid coach, who had a short spell in charge of Wales, is currently managing the Turkish side Besiktas, but could be persuaded to return to Britain.

Steve Bruce is another possible candidate as, like Platt, he is a player nearing the end of his career and looking to enter management. The former Manchester United defender is set to agree a new deal with Birmingham, but would surely be interested in a club of the stature of Villa.