Graham Taylor last night firmly pointed the finger at Doug Ellis as the reason for his shock resignation as Aston Villa manager.
After bringing an abrupt end to a miserable second spell in charge at Villa Park – that saw them slump to a 16th place finish in the Premiership – the former England manager intimated that the chairman would have to resign if the club was to move forward. He did not go as far as to name Ellis, but when asked if more changes were necessary, said: "I believe so. The structure has to be looked at on and off the field, people have to be able to look at themselves and say it's time for a change.
"Certain aspects of the club had to show an improvement and had to change if I were to remain as manager. I didn't come back for us to finish 16th.
"When I came back I took a lot of pressure off the board but that's not why I came back, I came back to deliver a successful team. I was going into the last year of my contract and it's difficult to get players to sign when you've only got one year, and we've got some very good young players and they need some stability of management."
The 58-year-old had earlier said that his decision was not related to a season of glaring under-achievement. "Contrary to what may be perceived, playing results are not the reason for my resignation," he said. "I had always believed that last season was going to be one of transition, particularly in respect of emerging young players. Modern football, with its well-publicised financial pressures, involves much wider issues than mere playing matters and those are a major factor in my decision."
It was not a decision that was taken lightly by Taylor, as it is likely to signal the end of a managing career that he resurrected to take over at Villa in February of 2002. Only the year before he had announced that he was quitting the management game for good on leaving Watford, but was persuaded by Ellis to return to the dug-out from his role as a non-executive director at the Midlands club.
John Gregory's departure precipitated that hasty U-turn, but unfortunately the results did not follow suit and this season Villa flirted with relegation before finishing just three points off the drop. The low point, however was a double defeat by Birmingham City, an unthinkable occurrence during decades of local ascendancy. Supporters booing Taylor en masse after the final home game was an all-too fitting finale to a calamitous campaign.
Ellis has now hired and said goodbye to 12 managers in his involvement with the club since 1968, a turnover that has earned the monicker "Deadly Doug". A statement yesterday said: "Doug Ellis expressed his sadness on behalf of the board and club at this resignation. He said that the board would now seek applications from suitable candidates with a view to interviews being held in June so that an appointment could be in place prior to the return of the players for pre-season training."
The club announced it would be making no further comment, but the usual suspects were sent to the head of the bookmakers' markets. David Platt was one of the principals in their lists, David O'Leary and Walter Smith being two others, but anyone named as the sixth manager in 13 years will find a far from happy ship.
In recent days, Taylor has released two club stalwarts, Ian Taylor and Alan Wright, and Lee Hendrie is frustrated and said to want to leave. Darius Vassell is yet to sign a new deal and the club are no more than hopeful that Joey Gudjonsson will make his loan permanent and that the Swedish striker Marcus Allback will also pledge his future.
There were also reports that Taylor had handed a shopping list of players to Ellis. Yesterday suggested that Taylor did not get the response he was looking for.
DEADLY FIRE: VILLA MANAGERS UNDER DOUG ELLIS
TOMMY DOCHERTY (1968-70)
Installed by Ellis in 1968 after the then-local travel agent had assumed control of the club. Docherty saved Second Division Villa from relegation in his first season. However, Villa were relegated the following year and "Deadly" Doug struck for the first, but certainly not the last, time.
VIC CROWE (1970-74)
In Crowe's first season Villa reached the League Cup final. The following year they were Third Division champions but Crowe's failure to take them any further up the League saw Ellis's axe swing for the second time.
RON SAUNDERS (1974-82)
The longest surviving Ellis appointment – possibly because Ellis was not actually Villa chairman for most of his reign, having been replaced by Sir William Dugdale in 1975. Returned Villa to First Division, won two League Cups, and a League title in 1980-81. Ellis's return as chairman in 1982 prompted Saunders' resignation, complaining that Deadly Doug would not give him full control of team affairs.
TONY BARTON (1982-84)
Saunders' assistant presided over the winning of the European Cup in 1981-82. Sacked by Ellis despite the chairman admitting he was "a lovely man".
GRAHAM TURNER (1984-86)
A miracle-worker at Shrewsbury, Turner found the pace of the top flight something else entirely. With Villa bottom of the table, Ellis wielded his increasingly bloody axe yet again.
BILLY McNEILL (1986-87)
Could not halt the slide that begun under Turner. Villa were relegated and McNeil was handed his P45.
GRAHAM TAYLOR (1987-90)
Led Villa back to the top flight, whereupon they were nearly relegated immediately. Finished championship runners-up in 1990 before Taylor left to manage England.
DR JOZEF VENGLOS (1990-91)
Nicknamed "Dr No" by fans because of his reluctance to sign anyone. Resigned after one season.
RON ATKINSON (1991-94)
Somehow the partnership of the two great egos of Atkinson and Ellis lasted three rocky years. But a second-place League finish and a League Cup win were not enough to save Big Ron from the big heave-ho.
BRIAN LITTLE (1994-98)
The former Holte End favourite oversaw a brief revival, including another League Cup triumph, but quit when the pressure became too great.
JOHN GREGORY (1998-2002)
Publicly criticised Ellis for being "stuck in a time warp" and memorably once said "the chairman's door is always open but his wallet is firmly closed". When the Derby job came up, he opted to jump before he was pushed.
GRAHAM TAYLOR (2002-03)
Swapped "Director of Football" role for a second stint in the tracksuit, but never entirely shook off the impression that he was merely keeping the seat warm for someone else.