Aston Villa are eyeing an ambitious move for the Sporting head coach, Rúben Amorim, after receiving little encouragement from Mauricio Pochettino about replacing Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard was sacked after less than a year in charge and the club’s hierarchy is due to accelerate talks with candidates in the coming days. Gerrard was relieved of his duties soon after an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at Fulham but travelled back to Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground on the team bus and said his goodbyes to his players in the early hours of Friday.
Amorim has established a fine reputation in Europe after leading Sporting to their first Portuguese title in 19 years last season and his team will be well placed to progress to the Champions League last 16 if they win at Tottenham on Wednesday.
Sporting paid €15m to land Amorim from Braga and inserted a €30m release clause in the four-year contract he signed in 2020, but Villa are thought not to be deterred by the prospect of having to pay hefty compensation. It is unclear how enthused Amorim would be about the prospect of taking over at Villa despite the grand plans of the billionaire owners, Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. When questioned about the links on Friday, the 37-year-old said: “I’m Sporting’s coach and there’s nothing to say on the matter.”
Villa’s owners, together with the chief executive, Christian Purslow, and sporting director, Johan Lange,have collated a managerial shortlist which includes Amorim. They plan to whittle down their options in the next 48 hours with a view to appointing Gerrard’s replacement before next weekend’s game at Newcastle. Sawiris and Purslow were at Fulham on Thursday and given the result, performance and the reaction of supporters, who taunted Gerrard with a series of humiliating chants, the manager’s position was deemed untenable. Gerrard is thought to have known his fate at full-time.
Pochettino was Villa’s primary target but is thought to be holding out for a job that would allow him to continue to manage at the elite level after leaving Paris Saint-Germain. Villa had hoped they could tempt Pochettino with a lucrative contract but are thought to have been rebuffed after making an informal inquiry several weeks ago. Villa could offer a large financial package to Amorim, who earns about €3m (£2.6m) net a year, but it is unclear how willing he would be to sign up to a relegation battle. Pochettino has previously been courted by Manchester United and Real Madrid and is in no rush to return to management.
The Brentford head coach, Thomas Frank, has admirers within the Villa hierarchy, notably Lange, with whom he worked in Denmark at Lyngby, but feels he has “unfinished business” at the west London club, who are 10th, and is open to signing a new contract. Frank is one of the lowest-paid managers in the league but the club are keen to reward him for a hugely impressive 12 months in the Premier League and are highly confident of keeping him. Villa, who are a place above the relegation zone, host Brentford on Sunday.
Gerrard won four of his first six matches but struggled to win over supporters. A run of eight wins from 31 matches this calendar year provoked concern at board level and anger among the fanbase. Villa’s owners have spent about £400m on the squad since buying the club in 2018 but have seen little return. Gerrard was unfortunate that Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara, summer signings considered coups and players he hoped would push the team into the top half, suffered long-term injuries in the opening weeks but the permanent signing of Philippe Coutinho, with whom Gerrard played at Liverpool, has backfired. Emiliano Buendía, Danny Ings and Leon Bailey, the trio of players signed to replace Jack Grealish after he moved to Manchester City for £100m, which predated Gerrard’s arrival from Rangers, have underwhelmed.
Villa’s first-team coach, Aaron Danks, has been placed in interim charge, after the rest of Gerrard’s staff, including his assistants Gary McAllister and Neil Critchley, were also sacked. Danks, born in Birmingham, worked as an assistant to Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht and with England youth teams.
Villa hoped Gerrard, who signed a three-and-a-half year contract last November, would return Villa to European competition but Purslow said the club had to act after evaluating “results and performances over the calendar year”. He added that the “objective of continuous improvement” had not been achieved.
Jürgen Klopp said he had exchanged messages with the former Liverpool captain. “He will be back, 100%” the Liverpool manager said. “But now I hope he takes a bit of time as well because since he finished his [playing] career he is pretty much working all the time so maybe use it now a little bit for himself to recharge.”