In January of 2011, with relegation looking to be a distinct possibility and Gerard Houllier very much in danger of losing the support of the fans, Randy Lerner opened his pocketbook in an effort to keep the wheels from falling off. The biggest signing was of course that of Darren Bent, whose transfer fee is still the highest Villa has paid for any player, but for some, the acquisition of Cameroonian international Jean Makoun from Lyon was an even more positive sign. Where Bent was clearly a panic buy, brought in as insurance against the drop, Makoun was the kind of below-the-radar but still high-quality player Villa fans had been hoping to see for several years, a metronomic ball-winner in the center of the pitch whose skillset seemed to mesh perfectly with club captain Stiliyan Petrov's in the center of midfield.
Makoun showed well in his early appearances with Villa, and his classy and commanding performance in an otherwise forgettable 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford was an encouraging sign of things to come. And then, two games later, Makoun was sent off and suspended for three games after a clumsy and mis-timed but nonetheless horrendous tackle against Blackpool's D.J. Campbell. Makoun would return from suspension straight away, but thanks in large part to injury he was an inconsistent figure in Villa's starting XI the rest of the way. Clearly though, he was Houllier's kind of player and the quality was evident, and Makoun figured to be a big part of Villa's 2011-12 season.
And then, Houllier was out. New manager Alex McLeish included Makoun in his earliest pre-season squads, but it was apparent early on that he wasn't the kind of player that was well suited to Villa's new system and shortly prior to the close of the August transfer window, Makoun was headed to Greece, where he won a league title with Olympiacos. After the departure of McLeish, Makoun was in something of a no-man's land; there was some question as to whether he could acquire a work-visa, and when Paul Lambert began to speak openly about never having met him, it was clear that Makoun's time as a Villa player was coming to a close.
In that respect, Makoun's move to Rennes comes as little surprise. Lambert is nothing if not loyal to his own recruits, and there isn't much indication that Makoun was all that interested in being a Villa player. It's had to place the blame on any one figure; it's tempting to blame Houllier for wasting over £6m on a player that made just nine appearances in a Villa shirt, but there's little doubt in my mind that Makoun would have been a regular feature if not for the the health problems of the man that brought him to Birmingham. Though the tactical approach of McLeish is certainly open to criticism, Makoun looked very poorly suited to the system and with Villa under something of a wage crunch, his loan away from the club wasn't necessarily the worst decision. Makoun would have likely been quite nice a fit in Lambert's setup, but given the current manager's methods and the player's seeming lack of desire to play for Villa (which is at least somewhat understandable) it was never going to happen.
All in all, it's just kind of a crappy situation. Makoun was a good player when Houllier bought him, and he's still a good player today. But circumstances that have little to do with things that happen on the pitch made it nearly impossible for him to continue his career in Birmingham, and while that kind of sucks, it should't really come as much of a surprise to anyone. Whatever fee Villa managed to pry out of Rennes (the number £2m has been bouncing around a bit, and that at the very least feels about right) won't come close to what Villa paid for him, but it's better than nothing, and it's nice to have his wages off the books and a resolution to the whole ordeal.
I really like Jean Makoun as a player. Ball-winning central midfielders than almost never put a pass in the wrong place aren't always sexy, but they're quite useful. I really wish things had worked out for him at Villa. But things didn't work out for him at Villa, and they weren't ever going to. That kind of sucks. But it's also just the way these things turn out from time to time.
Good luck at Rennes, Jean Makoun. Thanks for the jumper.