Houllier steps down as Aston Villa boss

Aston Villa are stepping up their search for a new manager after Gerard Houllier stepped down on Wednesday, with Fulham’s Mark Hughes one of the early favourites.

Houllier’s nine-month reign ended by mutual consent because of his recent heart problems which resulted in him not taking charge the final five games of last season.

Everton boss David Moyes is the preferred choice of 44% of fans who took part in a poll conducted by the Birmingham Mail. But it is former Wales boss Hughes who appears to be the early front-runner.

Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner said: "As a board, we are very conscious of the need to ensure that the club is prepared fully to meet the demands of the new season.

"To that end, we have already embarked upon the process which will lead to the appointment of a new manager.”

Former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, ex-England coach Steve McClaren, former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and Wigan chief Roberto Martinez are other names being linked with Villa.

Houllier, 63, had been hoping to return to his post but has eventually acknowledged he needs to recuperate before a possible return to football.

He said: "I am extremely disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to manage Aston Villa next season.

"My health has improved considerably since I was taken ill on April 20. I now intend to take the next few months to concentrate on recuperating fully before I may return to football.

"I was very much looking forward to the prospect of my first full season as Villa manager and returning for pre-season training to prepare for the campaign ahead, a luxury that I did not have last season.”

Faulkner said: "We regret the circumstances of Gerard’s departure and, naturally, we wish him well in his continued recovery.

"I know I speak for everyone associated with Aston Villa in expressing our hope that Gerard will return to full health as quickly as possible and we wish him all the best for the future.”

Villa’s record signing, Darren Bent, has revealed his sadness at Houllier having quit.

He showed his faith in Bent by splashing out an initial $30million to Sunderland in January and he responded with nine goals in 16 games.

Bent said: "It is sad for me to see Gerard go. He signed me, invested a lot of money in me.

"He showed a lot of faith in me.

"But your health comes first and, if he’s not well enough to come back, then he needs to take a break.”