Aston Villa find themselves managerless days before they kick off the new Premier League season. After four years at the club Martin O’Neill left saying no more than: “I have enjoyed my time at Aston Villa immensely. It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club,” before going on to thank the players, Coaches and supporters.
It can be no coincidence that O’Neill’s departure comes as James Milner edges closer to completing his move to Manchester City. Rumours have swirled that the former Villans manager wasn’t going to see a lot of the money from Milner’s sale, and that he was not too happy about that, on top of losing the side’s talisman. Tie those rumours in with murmurings that Tottenham Hotspur are stepping up their interest in Ashley Young and you can see how O’Neill’s ideas for the club had started to differ from the views of upper management.
The Premier League is a very different competition from the one Aston Villa was competing in when the Northern Irishman joined the club in 2006. Then the big four clubs ruled and there was a small pack struggling to keep in sight of them. This season it is clear that there is increased competition. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have not taken huge strides this summer. Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool all possess the ability to finish in the top four come May, whilst Manchester City could easily find themselves parading the trophy around Eastlands around the same time.
Aston Villa, however, have stagnated. There have been no signings at all this summer. There has barely been any suggestion of a signing. The focus this summer has been on keeping Milner (or at least getting every last penny out of City for him) and trimming the already small squad of some excess – Nicky Shorey is now at West Bromwich Albion and Steve Sidwell was close to joining Fulham before Mark Hughes said no to the move.
Martin O’Neill is famous for his strong views. His time spent on the BBC sofa is best remembered for him starting every sentence with “well, Alan, I’ve got to disagree,” we know O’Neill is not a man to tow the line. It is this strong will that has presumably lead to the end of his tenure at Villa. In his eyes, Villa should be competing with Spurs and Everton at the very least. They definitely should not be losing key players to rivals like Manchester City (Gareth Barry also went last summer). He would have agreed to the Milner sale on the proviso that he had money to reinvest, and possibly with assurances that players like Young would be going nowhere. If chairman Randy Lerner today informed O’Neill that he could not promise him the money and the players then he must have feared for the worst reaction from their manager.
Randy Lerner hired Martin O’Neill four years ago to provide the knowledge and ambition to take Aston Villa forward. It is not Aston Villa’s fault if the league around them has moved too quickly and left them struggling to keep up, but the board have to take some of the blame if they refused to stick to their early promise and provide their manager with the means to at least have a go.
Martin O’Neill signed off his time at Aston Villa by saying: “I wish them all the best for the future,” but he must know that the club will almost certainly now take a big step backwards.