The striker's rise does not paint O'Leary in a good light, argues Chief Football Writer Hyder Jawad...
Peter Crouch, the former Aston Villa striker who has signed Liverpool, is a tangible reminder of David O'Leary's fallibility as a football manager.
Remember Peter Crouch? He was the 6ft 7in striker who played three successive matches for Villa in early 2004, won a man-ofthematch award in each, yet was still deemed by O'Leary to be surplus to requirements.
This was the same Crouch who was sold by O'Leary to Southampton in July 2004 for £2 million, the same Crouch who played for England in May, and the same Crouch who joined the European champions for £7 million last night.
Ouch! O'Leary will never admit he made a mistake - "I've got no regrets and I don't suppose Peter has," O'Leary said recently. "It was the right thing at the time for the club and for the player" - but it has, alas, turned out to be a gross error of judgement.
It seemed that O'Leary could not wait to sell him. Worse still, Villa did not request a sell-on clause when they sold him to Southampton, so there will be no financial consolation for O'Leary.
Oops! In a bad Southampton team, Crouch scored 12 goals in 27 Premiership matches. In a reasonable Villa team, Juan Pablo Angel, Darius Vassell, Luke Moore, and Carlton Cole, scored 13 Premiership goals between them.
Crouch joined Villa, then under Graham Taylor, from Portsmouth for £5 million in March 2002. The fee was deemed excessive but the transfer market was overblown at that time. But now Taylor is vindicated by Crouch's move to Liverpool.
Crouch took his time to settle and win over the supporters but he was already showing the signs of international quality by the time O'Leary arrived a year or so later.
When Villa defeated Leicester City 5-0 away in January 2004, Crouch was devastating, just as he had been the match before, a 2-0 victory against Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup semi-final.
In truth, O'Leary did not rate him, and Crouch certainly has flaws. He is better with his feet than a tall man should be but not as dominant in the air. Surprisingly, Liverpool are buying him for his height but will be surprised to learn that he has the quick feet of a man a foot shorter.
Harry Redknapp, the Southampton manager, never stood a chance of keeping Crouch, with Middlesbrough, Charlton Athletic and Manchester City (with £21 million to spend after the departure of Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea) waiting in the wings if Liverpool failed.
O'Leary generally does well in the transfer market. Gavin McCann and Nolberto Solano, for such modest fees, are examples of good business, while Kevin Phillips and Patrik Berger will add creativity to a team that was often too predictable last season.
But Villa still struggle to spot rough diamonds and attract "superstar" players.
That is why it was a surprise to hear that O'Leary was linked with a move for Javier Saviola, the Barcelona playmaker, who has not made the grade at the Nou Camp.
However, Barcelona are yet to receive any firm interest from Villa for Javier Saviola. The Argentina international striker, who spent last season on loan at Monaco, will be allowed to leave either on another loan deal or a permanent transfer this summer. O'Leary was rumoured to have travelled to Barcelona last weekend to speak about the 23-year-old player, but Toni Ruiz, a spokesman for the Catalan club, denies that any deal is imminent.
"Our football director Txiki Beguiristain has no confirmation yet that Aston Villa are really interested in signing the player," Ruiz said. "In fact the club are currently having conversations with other teams who have really expressed their interest in signing Javier Saviola."
Never mind. O'Leary will look elsewhere and will no doubt make at least two new signings before the 2005-06 Premiership season kicks off.
It is stating the obvious, but scoring goals was Villa's problems last season. Vassell lacked fitness, Angel lacked confidence, Moore lacked experience and Cole lacked everything.
It meant that the midfield players, particularly Solano and Lee Hendrie, felt the burden. Had these two players not scored 11 goals between them, Villa would surely have been fighting to avoid relegation.
Crouch's goals could do little to help Southampton avoid finishing bottom but they would have helped Villa finish in a European position. And while he contemplates Uefa Champions League football with Liverpool, the vultures continue to hover over Villa Park.
The latest story is that Manchester City, whose failure to sign Crouch will make them more determined to sign another striker, now want to sign Vassell. The Villa striker is nowhere near the player he was when he broke on to the international scene just before the 2002 World Cup.
Then he seemed confident and happy. Now, because of injuries and a dislike of fame, he is a shadow of his former self. There is a perception that, at just 25, his England career is already part of the history books.
When Taylor signed Crouch for Villa in 2002, the dream was to pair him with Vassell and create the perfect striking partnership. It never materialised and now both players look set to flourish away from Villa Park, with Crouch now the classier and more valuable of the two.
Is it any wonder that Villa's patient supporters are consumed by permanent frustration?
Crouch's story is proof that Villa are living in a time warp.