Club Focus – Aston Villa – MacDonald given chance to put ghost of O’Neill to rest

With the shock of Martin O’Neill’s departure still resonating in the thoughts of everyone associated with Aston Villa, chairman Randy Lerner has taken an immediate and pragmatic approach to the situation – the American owner has given successful reserve team coach, Kevin MacDonald, full control of first team affairs for an indefinite amount of time. This sensible tactic from Lerner will allow a full search for the appropriate man to take Villa forward – indeed, Lerner may be accommodating enough of MacDonald to give the competent coach a sustained level of control of Villa’s team. Lerner and the rest of Aston Villa’s board have recognised that the club have entered a transitional period and that a knee-jerk reaction to O’Neill’s exit would be as ill-thought as the timing of the Ulsterman’s revelation of his resignation.

Whilst the former Villa manager has yet to defend his decision to leave with a full statement, the quotes attributed to Lerner and in this case director General Krulak (and those of Skysports pundit Andy Gray) have intimated that O’Neill may have left prematurely, and that he has done an injustice to the Villa fans: “No one person is bigger than our club – not me, not Randy, not Paul Faulkner (chief executive), not Martin. What is interesting is that, apparently, only three of those named understand that fact.” It has also been suggested that previous reports that O’Neill left because of transfer budget issues may be off target – Krulak surmised that O’Neill made his decision after a disagreement over the wage to revenue quandary that affects so many clubs – reports show that Villa may spend upwards of 80% of their revenue on wages. Had O’Neill had a stellar transfer record this would be forgivable but considerable wages for Habib Beye, Nicky Shorey, Marlon Harewood and Steve Sidwell show that perhaps O’Neill was a little loose with the money available time him whilst at Villa Park.

Now that O’Neill has left, Villa must focus on the season ahead, and as Lerner said, resolving the protracted James Milner saga. At the time of writing, Milner has yet to join Manchester City but the move seems imminent – what the details of the move will be are yet to be made exact with speculation suggesting that Stephen Ireland could be joining the Villans (an arrival that would be a timely boost for caretaker boss MacDonald.) Elsewhere, Lerner’s beady eye would have had a large focus on the murmurs surrounding Ashley Young’s future. Young, as Martin O’Neill constantly reiterated whilst at Villa, is an incredibly important player for the Midlands club and whilst his stock may have dropped slightly last season, losing him would almost certainly signal a mass exodus from Villa Park over the next year. However, reports late Thursday have claimed that Young is now set to stay.

BBC Sport reported that talks between Young and chief executive Paul Faulkner were positive which will be music to the ears of Villa fans – he will be pivotal to their style in the coming season and he is being touted by many to enjoy a third successive campaign providing assists in the double figures. Young enjoys a flowing game and whilst O’Neill was a massive advocate of attacking football, his tactics occasionally nullified Young’s influence, particularly when playing at home. MacDonald, who has led Villa’s reserve team to success in recent years, is known in Villa circles for his attacking style and he almost always played a 4-4-2 formation – whilst O’Neill was often criticised for choosing this formation, MacDonald will undoubtedly tinker with the former boss’ team. As has been mentioned previously on A Different League, O’Neill rarely rotated his squad but with injuries to Carlos Cuellar and James Collins, MacDonald will be taking charge of a new look Aston Villa, regardless of who comes and goes by Saturday afternoon. Luke Young may find himself back in favour and it will be relief for all those that can see the flaws in Cuellar’s ability as a right sided defender to see Young be given a second chance. All in all, Villa’s team on Saturday will be responsible for producing a result that goes someway to stabilising a club that is currently going through its most tumultuous period in nearly ten years.

Randy Lerner and 42,000 fans will be hoping to see an Aston Villa play through relative adversity – James Milner will in all probability gone, Martin O’Neill will definitely not be there, Ashley Young may or may not be but one thing is certain – if Villa repeat their performance against Wigan at the start of last season, optimism surrounding a club that up till three days ago was on the up will have plummeted to an all new low.

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