Barry Bannan has revealed that Martin O'Neill was not convinced he could make the grade at Aston Villa.
Young midfielder's career has been transformed by Houllier's arrival
Barry Bannan has revealed that former Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill was not convinced he could make the grade at the top level.
But while the ex-Celtic manager 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."