According the the Guardian's Stuart James, Wigan's Roberto Martinez is once again at the top of Randy Lerner and Paul Faulkner's managerial shortlist despite turning down an approach for his services last season. In a bit of a surprise, James seems to feel as though Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers is a close second to Martinez and that presumed favorite Paul Lambert a bit more of a long shot than many assume. All three names are in keeping with the stated desire of the club to pursue a "young and hungry" manager that can make significant changes to the culture of the club, but all are currently employed by Premier League teams that finished the season higher up the table than Aston Villa; in order to land any of the three, the board will likely need to make a compelling case that they will have greater means to pursue success (by which I mean money, in case that wasn't clear) than they currently enjoy.
Martinez was my preferred candidate last season and little has changed in the interim. I love the style of football that his teams play, but it goes beyond that; plenty of managers have a strong tactical understanding and a commitment to playing free-flowing, attacking football. It's Martinez's widely praised man management, commitment to scouting and proclivity for finding tremendous value in the transfer market that set him apart. Of course, those are also the things that make him something of an up-and-coming superstar in the managerial world, and if Aston Villa seemed an unattractive proposition at this time last year I cannot imagine what would make him reconsider this time around; Martinez is clearly more well respected now than he was the last time Villa made the approach, while the state of Aston Villa looks significantly worse. Unless Lerner is ready to give the new manager a hefty transfer budget and will sanction an almost complete rebuild, I can't see why he'd reconsider-especially if the interest from clubs of Liverpool's stature is legitimate.
Rodgers' Swansea City play a similar style to Martinez's Wigan (which is likely no accident) but they play with a bit less attacking intent and instead turn possession into a form of defense in and of itself. He also seems to share some of Martinez's aptitude for finding hidden gems in the transfer market, which is likely a big part of the reason for the interest; there's no reason to believe that a new manager is going to be forced to make due with free transfers and loans (even McLeish was given some money to spend) but maximizing return is a valuable skill and one I don't fault the club for making a high priority in the new man. If Martinez is my #1 then Rodgers is #1a, and he may well be more accessible; I still think it would be a surprise to see him at Villa Park next season, but it's nice to know he's being considered.
And then of course there's Lambert, the first choice of many a Villa fan and the man I'd considered (until reading James' piece) to be the odds-on favorite for the job. Lambert's Norwich City team doesn't necessarily play an intricate passing game like Wigan or Swansea, but they're undeniably fun and like to get forward, and after McLeish I think "has a history of managing entertaining teams" has gone right up to the top of the checklist alongside "has Premier League experience." If Villa aren't planning a full squad re-boot he seems to a perfect fit, as he's likely to have better luck with the players currently in-house than Martinez or Rodgers. There's also plenty of speculation from well-informed people that he'd be happy to take the job if it's offered, unlike Martinez who will, in even the best case, need some convincing.
That's why hearing that he's third on the board's list is a bit of a head-scratcher; I can't fathom that Lerner is willing (or even able at this point) to hand over the funds necessary to fully re-build the club over the course of the next season or two, which means that Martinez and Rodgers would need to be persuaded that they'd be able to succeed while managing a team that tries to build from the back with Richard Dunne and James Collins. At the same time, whether you like his take on things or not, James usually gets factual information such as this spot-on and I'm more than willing to believe that he's correct. And if I'm right to trust him, I'm quite pleased with the managers Villa have put at the top of their list, whether or not I think they'll be able to land them. I think the odds of a stop-gap in the McLeish vein or a retread such as Houllier (despite my affinity for him, I think it's fair to label him as such) are pretty slim this time around, and that's undoubtedly good news.