Bannan shining under Houllier

But while O’Neill constantly questioned whether the 5ft 5in

midfielder was big enough to cope with the demands of Premier

League football, the arrival of Gerard Houllier at Villa Park has

transformed Bannan’s career. Bannan had become disillusioned under

O’Neill, who never gave the 20-year-old Scot a run in the first

team and sent him on loan to Derby and Blackpool during the last

two seasons. Houllier has handed Bannan his first Premier League

start, though, and he was rewarded with his international debut in

Tuesday’s friendly against the Faroe Islands. “Martin had size

issues with me and he kept bringing them up in conversation over

the many meetings we had when he was at Villa,” Bannan told the

Daily Record. “I’d been at the club since I was 14. My parents had

left Lanarkshire and moved to the Midlands to look after me while I

tried to become a success. But Martin left me disheartened when

what I really needed was his trust. “The only thing that kept me

going during that period of rejection was when I said to myself,

‘some day somebody will show confidence in you’. “I knew I couldn’t

afford to be totally disheartened because then my confidence levels

would have dropped and my game would have gone to pieces along with

them. “Gerard likes a passing game for Villa so now I’ve gone from

the stage where I was on loan to Blackpool and playing every now

and then to the point where I’ve been first pick for Villa for the

last three matches in the Premier League. “And all of that’s been

based on what the manager saw of me in training each day. I’m

grateful to say he’s taken to me and I’ve experienced a total

change of fortune since Gerard arrived at the club.” As well as

restoring Bannan’s confidence, Houllier made an inspired move by

bringing in former Scotland captain Gary McAllister as assistant

manager. The ex-Leeds and Liverpool midfielder won 57 caps and has

been a great help to Bannan as the youngster aims to become a

regular in the Scotland squad. “Gary’s been brilliant for me,”

Bannan added. “He’s been working on the defensive side of my game

and I know that’s important because anything that keeps me in the

first team is vital where Scotland’s concerned. “The next

competitive international isn’t until the start of next season.

That means I have to stay in Villa’s team and keep my mind focused

on winning Scotland’s attention. Otherwise there’s no place in the

Euro 2012 qualification squad for me. “I’ve got one cap and now I’m

hungry for more. I know I wouldn’t have got a chance at Aston Villa

if Martin O’Neill had stayed there as manager. Now I’m enjoying

every minute of life under his successor. “I’ll work my socks off

under Gerard and I’ll try to stay in Craig Levein’s thoughts as

well. He switched my position against the Faroes because he wanted

me to get wider and have more freedom on the ball. I almost scored

but the post denied me. “It looked as if it was going in but at

least that moment proved I wasn’t nervous about playing for

Scotland for the first time.”