So, Martin O’Neill has shocked the footballing world and walked away from Aston Villa and the main question floating around is why?
When you look at Martin O’Neill’s career he isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, in fact his whole history as a player & as a manager involves him standing up to challenge’s, even his reason for leaving Celtic was to face a challenge and help his sick wife back to full health, a decision that everyone could understand. So why leave Villa just 2 months after re-affirming his commitment to the club and 5 days before the start of the season?
A lot of the early stories say he’s left because of the ongoing Milner saga however I don’t think it’s that simple, Milner was going to leave ever since City showed interest in him and every one at Villa realised this, the story has dragged on through the summer and the early reports suggest that O’Neill was upset at the amount of money he was going to be given to spend from this deal, however looking over his transfer style you see that O’Neill doesn’t go out and spend loads on one player. When Barry left the biggest signing was Downing for £12m (£7m less than Barry went for) but that had been going on for a while, I doubt O’Neill went to Lerner saying he wanted to spend all £20m+ they get from the deal, especially if Stephen Ireland is included in it. No, the Milner deal and transfer money isn’t at the heart of this problem otherwise O’Neill would have gone in May when this saga first started as I think O'Neill knew how much he would have to spend.
The main problem I think is that over the weekend Tottenham allegedly went to Randy Lerner and asked about buying Ashley Young, a player that O’Neill like’s a lot and has helped develop and made quite clear he wanted to keep, things get a bit sketchy from here but it appears that rather than speaking to his manager Lerner started talking prices with Spurs and this seemed to be the final straw for the manager, he’d made it clear what Milner’s value was and it seems this is being undercut, he was told to sell before spending which he tried to do however was tied back by waiting for the deal to go through rather than making moves for players before the funds are in. A small problem I know but if you know Milner is going start making moves to replace him, O’Neill wouldn’t want to spend the last few hours of the transfer window arranging quick deals (I expect this deal to be finalised in the last few days of the transfer window). All of these things I think he could deal with but finding out your chairman is trying to flog one of your best players before your even aware would irk most managers. Could you imagine if Hill-Wood or Gill went to their respective managers and said ‘were selling Cesc for this much’ or ‘were selling Rooney for this much’? Course not, that would never happen so why should it happen at a team with ambitions of finishing 4th?
O’Neill learnt from one of the best in Brian Clough and one thing he valued highly was loyalty, Cloughie wanted to believe in the people above him and around him and O’Neill is the same. Whilst many people question his transfer dealings he can point to just as many good deals as bad and can happily point out his excellent record at Wycombe, Leicester & Celtic to show that he should be backed, and all managers make bad signings (say it quietly but even Wenger has signed a flop or two). If O’Neill didn’t feel he had the support of the people above him then he wouldn’t stay on, he would rather leave on his own terms than stay around and try and make excuses.
People have also suggested that his relationship with the fans was strained, I’d love to meet these fans and ask them why they weren’t happy with him, I find it hard to believe a club that had just finished 16th when he came in could be unhappy with a manager who in the last 3 years guided them to 6th three times in a row as well as a League cup final, F.A cup Semi final and nearly 4th place twice could complain. Yes he devalued the UEFA cup trying to chase 4th place, but if they’d got 4th no one would have complained they would have hailed him as a great manager however they missed out and now I don’t think they will be able to push for 4th again, and maybe with the lack of funds and players leaving O’Neill just felt it was too much to try and better what he’s done so far. In fact if he was given the money to buy a top quality goal poacher things would have been so much better but sadly in football you have to invest a lot to get what you want (look at Spurs).
Now Randy Lerner has a massive problem on his hands, who is the right man for the job? Mark Hughes is out of the running, despite the fact some media sources seem to think he could walk out on Fulham that’s not his style and I can’t see him doing that, Sven is another name being mentioned but that would be a huge step backwards. For starters he has been out of club football for years and I doubt very much that he would be able to motivate the players in such a way that they are used to and that some of them probably need, I also don’t think the Villa fans would be keen on a man that every day seems to pop up saying he has always followed this club or that and would love to take over a club so close to his heart (think Liverpool or Fulham comments) his huge salary would also be a problem, if he gets paid so much why not give O’Neill that extra money to spend on players rather than replace him with an over hyped boss on a bigger salary? Bob Bradley is another name being touted around and whilst this probably looks the most likely it could seriously sourer the relationship Lerner spent so long building up with the fans.
The two main problems with Bradley would be that he’s never managed at such a level before (high premiership or European team) and the second, most painful one would be that he’s American. If he is appointed he will be under more pressure straight away as it would be seen as a ‘Yank appointing a Yank’ and some fans would feel this is the only reason he has the job, it would almost be as if Learner was appointing him to help promote football in the States and the fiercely proud Villa fans would not stand for this. If Bradley was to come in and by Christmas Villa were languishing around mid table a lot of anger would be directed not only to the manager but the chairman as well and this would be a destructive appointment. Whilst I personally think Bradley is a good managed (all be it a bit negative when it comes to tactics) I think he should go to a club where he won’t be seen as a friend of the chairman.
The only other name that jumps out would be Martin Jol but again this would carry problems with it. Whilst he’s got the top level experience as manager at Spurs, Hamburg & Ajax the problems Fulham went through trying to get him might be off putting, with the escape clause in his contract now having expired Ajax are free to ask for however much they want, especailly seeing as Jol probably wouldn’t walk out on a club very close to his heart without a deal being reached, although his problems at having a decent sized transfer budget still seem to rumble on it appears that key players such as Suarez won’t be leaving now and he won’t want to leave Ajax in the lurch so to speak. It was reported at the time of Fulham’s interest Jol feels he wants another go at the EPL after the way he left Spurs and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind stealing 4th off Spurs he might not want to join a club that he has to sell players to buy players or one that can't compete at the level he would want
Personally it wouldn’t surprise me to see Bob Bradley turn up at Villa Park however I think this would be a backwards step and cause friction between fans and the owner something Learner would like to avoid given the hero status O’Neill had after taking Villa so far and doubtlessly the whispers around the fans that he is to blame for O’Neill going. Whatever happens it will be a very interesting few days at the club and could well set the tone for the rest of the season.
Have just read Lerner's right hand man's (General Charles C Krulak) comments today i get the feeling that the confidence between manager and people above him was damaged irreversably before O'Neill left. Comments such as "As an aside, no one person is bigger than our club ... not me, not Randy, not Paul, not Martin. What is interesting is that, apparently, only three of those named understand that fact." which clearly is a dig at O'Neill. I personally think this is a stratergy to protect the 'higher ups' at the club as someone like O'Neill, who has managed smaller clubs before, will understand perfectly how wages work. The fact he's sold of Shorey, selling Milner & was trying to shift Sidwell shows he was perfectly aware of the situation and doubtlessly was trying to rectify it however if Lerner meant what he said about trying to break in to the top 4 this season his pals in the board room, and himself, have to understand that a level of money will have to be spent to keep up with people like Spurs & City because the amount of money they are spending will pull them further clear of the chasing pack.
If Villa are serious about competing with the top 4 as Lerner said in May when he backed O'Neill then they need to realise they can't do this on a shoe string budget, Everton have been trying for years and got no where (one CL qualifying round they got knocked out in) and that was before Spurs had taken the 4th spot and didn't have money bags City chasing them. Whilst i appreciate that a wage turnover over £71m per annum is high, i still don't believe that a man like Martin O'Neill would quit over something as trivial as this and i feel that the people above him are moving rapidly to cover their backs before more to this story is revealed