Allardyce on Villa manager wish-list

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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce and Gordon Cowans joined the early front runners, Martin O'Neill and Alan Curbishley, on the list of possible candidates to succeed David O'Leary as Aston Villa launched the search for the 14th manager of the Doug Ellis era yesterday.

The credentials of Allardyce, the Bolton Wanderers manager, and Cowans, a senior coach in Villa's youth academy, are sure to be examined by Ellis and his board, along with those of the respective former managers of Celtic and Charlton Athletic.

Allardyce is from the Black Country, and may crave a fresh challenge. Cowans has no managerial pedigree but is revered by Ellis and the fans. The former England midfielder is steeped in Villa, having spent most of his playing and coaching career there.

As if to entice contenders who may have been put off by the prospect of working under the chairman known as "Deadly", the club revealed they were in talks with "credible parties" over a possible takeover.

Until an appointment is made - O'Neill is expected to be Ellis's first port of call - O'Leary's No 2, Roy Aitken, will act as manager. The former Celtic and Scotland captain described the events of the past week, beginning with the so-called squad statement criticising Ellis, as a "media circus".

Aitken, who returned to the training ground only on Monday after recovering from colon surgery, insisted the Villa squad were united in their desire to put the controversy behind them. "There's no split in the camp," he said. "The situation has been hyped over the top. The players know what happened. But there was no misconduct from the manager, as was made clear in the club's statement.

"Now we all need to start moving forward. We have had a word with the players. Their work ethic is fantastic and they will show their quality in the next few weeks. It's been a media circus, but now they need to get in a good pre-season."

Aitken admitted he was "not 100 per cent" after his operation but added: "The best part of my job is being with the players on the training pitch, so I'm delighted to have been given the offer to continue."

He pledged "enthusiasm, organisation and passion", starting with Villa's opening pre-season friendly at Walsall tonight.

O'Leary's departure, with a pay-off of £500,000, is likely to ensure Ellis again becomes the focus of the fans' frustrations. The 82-year-old has a 39 per cent share in the club and a statement to the Stock Exchange yesterday referred to approaches "both from the UK and overseas".

It stated that Rothschild, the investment bank appointed to help Ellis sell the club, had taken part in "extensive discussions" with the chairman and "credible parties". The talks were ongoing, but the statement ended by warning there was "no certainty" that they would lead to a formal offer being tabled for Villa.