For a club so rarely in the immediate media spotlight, the resignation of manager Martin O’Neill in such a close proximity to the start of a new campaign has plunged the club into turmoil. He has undeniably been one of Aston Villa’s most successful managers in the sense that his time at the club has set up a ‘bright future’ as one of the clubs motto suggests. In his loss, Villa have suffered an unmitigated disaster – O’Neill is irreplaceable. Not only was he respected by the players and adored by the fans, he brought a stability to the club, had an admirable (if at times frustrating) transfer policy and most importantly, he has brought in players like James Milner, Ashley Young and John Carew. As he leaves, O’Neill will be leaving a proud man knowing that despite his untimely departure, and the problems that will ensue, he has set the club up for the future.
With O’Neill leaving, the expectations held by fans throughout the summer will have changed – next season will be a season of transition no matter what happens before the end of the transfer window. Who will replace him, and the reasons as to why O’Neill left, will develop over the next few days and the answers will have a profound impact on how Villa fare next season. Their image, and the image of chairman Randy Lerner, has been tarnished to an extent that only a statement of intent from Lerner will change. It has been intimated that O’Neill left over a disagreement with Lerner regarding the amount of money he would receive from the sale of James Milner to Manchester City – should this be true, it would show prospective managers and players that there is dearth of available money at the club and further development in the coming seasons may not be rapid. For instance, any transfers including Aiden McGeady, Stephen Ireland et al, that were possibilities before O’Neill’s departure, have seen the percentage of said moves plummet.
Quite how the usually introvert Lerner will react to O’Neill’s departure in public will be massively important – due to O’Neill’s popularity, an explanation would go some way to tempering the intrigue and disappointment that this decision has been met with. Lerner has often kept a smokescreen around his role at the club in an attempt to detract attention from himself which, given the actions of many other club owners, is massively important. Now, for a while at least, that screen has been removed and Lerner will need to give the much need assurances – with Manchester City constantly adding to their squad, Everton looking to a injury free season and Tottenham being touted for a title push, Villa have now been forced in to a state of flux. On the one hand, spending money is evidently a problem and with that comes a lack of new players arriving at the club. Further worries include a potential exodus at the club – Ashley Young has said on occasions, most recently when talking about signing a new contract, that the idea of working under O’Neill is one of the main reasons he is at the club. Young players like Young, Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton may feel that Villa are club set to stagnate and could be swayed be offers from elsewhere.
However, should Villa bring a continental manager (Martin Jol, Bob Bradley and Slaven Bilic per say) there could be a chance for Villa to change several of the flaws that O’Neill had – there was always a reluctance to look abroad for inexpensive and unproven footballers, something that Jol et al may not be as reticent to do. Then, of course, there would be a change in the non-existent rotation system at Aston Villa. As previously mentioned on Adifferentleague, O’Neill’s reluctance to rotate players in later stages of the season often affected the players (note Ashley Young, Milner and Agbonlahor) and as a result, the performance of the team was harmed. Although O’Neill’s exit was ill-timed, it is hard to criticise the manager as of yet because the intricacies that his departure entailed have not been publicised but that should not dampen the sense of trepidation that this event has brought – will it be good in the long-term of will it be the start of a new future for Aston Villa, full of mediocrity and no money?