David O'Leary has finally admitted that last January's signing of African flop Eric DjembaDjemba was a gamble that has not paid off.
The Cameroon international was last night still missing from action, more than a week after he was supposed to have reported back to the Midlands from African Nations Cup duty.
Although O'Leary has not yet revealed how he intends to punish DjembaDjemba, the player's nonreturn is the final straw.
Villa are now powerless to do anything about offloading the player until the end of the season following an apparent lack of interest in DjembaDjemba during the January transfer window. But, if they can find a buyer this summer, there is now little doubt that he will be moved on as fast as O'Leary can arrange it.
"He was worth a gamble," said O'Leary. "I'd have liked a Jermaine Jenas but we didn't have the funds.
"So when he came on the market for that price I thought it was worth a go. But he hasn't fitted in.
"He goes off to France, says something critical and then returns and tells me he didn't say it, but I know what's going on. I've confronted him about it and he will be dealt with soon enough."
Djemba-Djemba's signing from Manchester United on the last day of the 2005 January transfer window raised eyebrows at the time.
He had cost United £3.5 million when they signed him from Nantes 18 months before. But, even at a cut-price £1.2 million, he has proved a disaster. And, at a time of potential takeover talk, when Villa have been denied the chance to spend any money in this January's window, there is now a feeling of frustration over how that money might otherwise have been spent.
Admittedly, O'Leary has had his success stories in the transfer market - notably Thomas Sorensen, Gavin McCann and Kevin Phillips. And, even if Villa were to offload him for nothing at the end of the season, the potential loss would still not compare with the £2 million deficit suffered by Blues on the sale of Walter Pandiani last month.
But Djemba-Djemba has proved the biggest flop of O'Leary's two-and-a-half years in charge.
Djemba-Djemba started just four league games last season and has played less than two hours of football as a substitute this term.
Ironically, while Villa continue to wait for Djemba-Djemba to return to club duty, his best chance of making another breakthrough at first team level has now gone.
With James Milner unavailable, Gavin McCann suspended, Steven Davis crocked and Patrik Berger still out injured, O'Leary was so short of players for Saturday's home game with Newcastle United that he was forced to give youngster Craig Gardner a first league start.
But McCann is available again for Sunday's FA Cup fifth round clash with Manchester City; Milner will also be allowed to resume, and Davis still has a chance of being fit after his calf strain.
Even Berger is back in full training after the knee problem that forced him to travel to Colorado to be examined by world renowned specialist Richard Steadman.
Although Gardner suffered a knee injury on Saturday, his problem is not as serious as first feared. ..SUPL: