O'Neill leaving Villa behind

Courtesy Dagur Brynjólfsson

By Kevin Koczwara

Randy Lerner has not had the best reputation as an owner in America. His Cleveland Browns bumble and fumble annually in the National Football League and the team looks to be on the bottom half of the NFL’s power rankings yet again this season. Lerner’s dealings in England get overshadowed in the states by his minimal presence in the owner’s box in Cleveland, but that is soon too change as Aston Villa fans and close to the whole of the population in Birmingham should soon be up-in-arms.

Martin O’Neill announced his resignation from the managerial post at Aston Villa yesterday reportedly because of disputes with management, specifically Lerner and the board, about the future of the club and the direction it was heading in. O’Neill managed and moved players on a limited budget while pushing the Birmingham club into contention for a top-four spot, European competition, and league cups. Now Villa will need to find a suitable replacement for one of the best managers in England who found himself in need of a change.

It is believed that Lerner has become more cautious about wheeling and dealing players since the economic downturn, understandably, but he has made the club into a personal investment bank, in a way.

Gareth Barry left last summer for a bigger paycheck at Manchester City for a reasonable price, but just a summer before O’Neill had refused to sell the England international to Liverpool for a larger transfer fee. It was staggering to see unfold. A once coveted midfielder left a rising club for another up-and-coming club for less than what was offered by another club just a year before.

And this summer it looks like another Villa star will be on his way to Manchester City because O’Neill lacked the backing from management to defend his choice to keep the player on. James Milner has been linked with a move away from Villa since jumping into O’Neill’s starting 11 in 2008 and then shining in 2009. Milner had such great success under O’Neill at Villa that it lead to a call-up to the English National team for the World Cup in South Africa.

Milner will be sold for at least double what Villa paid for the 24-year-old just two seasons ago when he transferred from Newcastle United. A sound investment for the club, but his move would have been a major blow to O’Neill’s squad because it looked as though none of the transfer money would go back into the team as they searched for a suitable replacement.

And this is where the issue lies for O’Neill. He made sound investments, got a good return price for the players he acquired. The Northern Irishmen seemed to breathe life into players who were seeking a new beginning or a fresh start, only to see his players leave and only a portion of the money he raised come back to him.

This may all seem futile to complain about, many managers have to deal with the same sort of financial restrictions, but O’Neill is looking to make a final push for some major trophies and the management at Villa isn’t on the same page. He is close to his final years as a manager at the top club levels at 58, not everyone is like Sir Alex Ferguson and ageless.  If Villa and he cannot agree on where the club should go or how they should spend money in the transfer window then it was only a matter of time before O’Neill resigned.

With O’Neill’s resignation and Milner’s imminent move, Aston Villa fans should fear the worst this season. There are less than five days before the season kicks off, and a slow start could snowball into a poor season for the club, just ask Newcastle what can happen when a manager leaves a club just before the season starts because of disagreements with management, they were relegated in the 2008/09 season after Keegan left his post in the summer before.

Kevin Koczwara is a writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at kevin.koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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