Robert Pires has offered a revealing insight into the "tense" dressing room atmosphere at Aston Villa, admitting that several unhappy players have held showdown talks with Gerard Houllier. Pires also believes that Houllier's job could come under threat if Villa fail to win their next two fixtures.
Houllier has failed to recapture the success of the Martin O'Neill era since taking control of Villa, with the club just one place above the relegation zone. His tenure has been blighted by several reports of player unhappiness, most recently after Richard Dunne was dropped from the squad for the clash with Tottenham.
Now Pires, one of Houllier's signings, has hinted that the manager is about to enter a do-or-die period.
"What's certain is that the two games coming up against Sunderland and Sheffield United in the FA Cup will be very, very decisive for Gerard's future," he said. "It's true [that] it's a bit tense. Gerard is having trouble getting his message across.
"He is used to a certain way of working and he arrives with new methods. From what I've understood, there have been several meetings between Gerard and the players who didn't really agree with him."
According to Pires, Houllier is set to try and make his mark on the Villa squad by overhauling it during the January window. "There will be a lot of departures, some arrivals," he said.
Houllier's assistant Gary McAllister has also pleaded with Villa fans to give the Frenchman time to stamp his own image on the squad and turn things around.
"Give it time," he said. "The manager needs time to establish his style, his own methods, to get them ingrained in the club. He needs to bring his own people in but, I've got to say, there is not a great deal that needs to be added to this club.
"It is a few little tickles here and there. There are a lot of quality players here. We just feel in certain positions we might need a bit more experience and in other positions we might need a bit more quality. But it doesn't need a great deal. It just needs a little bit of tinkering."
One player who could be set to arrive at Villa Park is Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker, as a possible replacement for the injured Luke Young.
Walker, 20, is expected to join Villa on loan, having spent the first half of the 2010-11 campaign at Championship side QPR.