A number of his squad did not feel that the club was equipped to make a sustained challenge for honours and sought pastures new.
The morning after the Cup final reports surfaced that Paul Merson did not see a future for himself at Villa, but he thought the club did not want him. Thankfully, for both sides, that particular dispute was resolved to mutual benefit.
Benito Carbone, who did much to ignite the midlanders’ season after joining on loan from Sheffield Wednesday with a view to a permanent move, proclaimed his undying love for the club before awarding himself extended leave and eventually uttering similar statements at Bradford.
The real shocker to Villa supporters was captain Gareth Southgate announcing that he saw a trophy-laden future for himself elsewhere. Chelsea nibbled at the bait, but balked at the asking price. Southgate remains for the time being, but his central defensive ‘oppo’ did make his escape.
After prolonged negotiations, Ugo Ehiogu swapped Villa Park for the Riverside Stadium, although it is debatable whether he has found himself a bigger stage. There were also mutterings of discontent from Julian Joachim, while Steve Watson, Mark Draper and Alan Thompson did go through the exit door.
Gregory was facing a radical reshuffle of the pack. In came Turkish centre-half Alpay Ozalan from Fenerbahce and, to the dismay of many Spurs devotees, David Ginola, who expects to be fit to indulge in a spot of point proving for the visit of his former club. Luc Nilis was drafted in to provide extra firepower, but his season has already been cut cruelly short by a badly broken leg.
Gilles de Bilde (Nickname Bob) has been recruited on loan from Sheffield Wednesday to cover for the sad twist of fate that befell Nilis.
Despite the setbacks, and a slow start, Villa appear to be on the up — although goalscoring is a problem. They currently lie in fifth place, which is fairly consistent with Gregory’s record since returning to the club as manager, having previously been assistant to Brian Little.
On arrival in February 1998, Gregory took over a team in freefall to Division One. He pulled it round to such an extent that his team headed into Europe the following season after finishing seventh. After a stirring start, many believed Villa were in a position to win the title in 98-99 after leading the way for a large chunk of the campaign — and with a largely English team at that. It was not to be, and Villa ended up in sixth.
Bizarrely, Gregory was tipped for the sack last season after a shaky period, but a touchline ban for his conduct towards referees saw a change in fortune for his team. Villa ended up in sixth place again and reached the Cup final against Chelsea — and Gregory now has a seat with his name on it in the stand.
By Richard Hubbard
To many managers, an FA Cup final appearance would be viewed as a signal of intent, a platform for a period of equilibrium while plotting a prosperous future or a springboard for success. For John Gregory, the aftermath of the last final staged at the old Wembley turned into one big headache.