Would-be managers and supporters were yesterday scrutinising the wording of Aston Villa's statement about the criteria required of Martin O'Neill's eventual successor. Issued after Sunday's win over Everton under Kevin MacDonald, it appeared to rule out the United States coach, Bob Bradley, as well as Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman – although not necessarily the caretaker manager.
The statement said the successful candidate must have "experience of managing in the Premier League". A curiously limiting caveat, in that Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Jose Mourinho would have been spurned by Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea if they had enforced it, it appeared to erase any remaining hope MacDonald may have had of landing the post Villa aim to fill before resuming league combat at Stoke City on 13 September.
The phrasing offered encouragement to a number of seasoned ex-Premier League managers, principally Gérard Houllier, Sven Goran Eriksson and the ex-Villa players Alan Curbishley and Gareth Southgate. Both the Ajax coach and former Spurs manager, Martin Jol, and fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink, who had a successful interim spell at Chelsea and is now coaching Turkey, would be popular choices, although there would be contractual problems in prising either away from his present position.
Behind that clutch of contenders are Gianfranco Zola and Glenn Hoddle. A further group with the required background includes Iain Dowie, Paul Jewell, Alan Shearer, Gary Megson, Phil Brown, Chris Coleman and Alan Pardew. However, Villa's American chairman-owner, Randy Lerner, is highly unlikely to opt for one of them ahead of MacDonald.
Villa insiders point out that the 49-year-old does possess the experience, being in his second stint as an acting manager at the highest level. The first, with Leicester in 1994, produced a solitary point, but Villa currently stand fourth in the Premier League under MacDonald's stewardship after two wins in three matches.
After the Everton match on Sunday, Lerner told MacDonald they would talk within 24 hours. But MacDonald said: "I still don't know whether it's for me or not. There have been moments when I thought, 'Yeah, I'll do it', but also times when I thought, 'This isn't for me'. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, but also lying if I said I enjoyed the past week [the defeat at Newcastle and exit from Europe]. The lows have been so low and the highs so high. After the game people said, 'You must be excited', but it was just relief."