Was Martin O’Neill right to walk away from Aston Villa?
With the Premier League set to kick off in a matter of days, Martin O’Neill’s decision to quit Aston Villa sent ripples through English football.
After months of preparation, countless ventures abroad for conditioning and hours spent agonising over tactics, the 59-year-old bizarrely waited the entire summer before making the difficult decision to walk away from Villa Park.
Questions over the factors that led O’Neill to resign look set to remain for some time after Villa chairman Randy Lerner simply stated today that the pair “no longer shared a common view as to how to move forward”.
However, the main issue appears to be monetary with Villa’s non-executive director, General Charles C Krulak, hinting at the frustrations of the Villa Park hierarchy as O’Neill allowed the club’s wage bill to “spiral out of control”.
The Birmingham club’s player wages are reported to eclipse that of rivals Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
It is undersood O’Neill wanted the entire fee generated from the sale of James Milner to be reinvested in the squad. Lerner refused to comply and it proved the final straw for the former Celtic boss.
Whilst losing Milner is far from ideal, with City willing to pay up to £27m for the midfielder and the potential inclusion of Stephen Ireland as part of the deal, the midfielder’s sale was a viable option.
But if Lerner really was unwilling to allow O’Neill to reinvest any of the capital raised from the sale, it is easy to feel sympathy for the manager’s plight.
Milner was the standout player for Villa last season and deservedly picked up the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
The acquisition of promising young British talent has been at the forefront of O’Neill’s spell in Birmingham, in addition to blooding of products of Villa’s youth system. Milner, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor have all blossomed under the Northern Irishman.
As the man who helped manufacture the pair into England internationals, transfer speculation surrounding both Milner and Young will have understandably exasperated O’Neill.
After the effort expended in building a solid team, seeing the club’s progress hampered by a chairman’s lack of ambition would frustrate any manager.
A club of Villa’s stature, vying for Champions League football year-on-year under O’Neill, should not be selling indispensable players to fellow contenders such as Manchester City and Tottenham.
O’Neill’s critics will point to his dealings in the transfer market last season. Over £40m was spent on acquiring the services of Emile Heskey, Nicky Shorey, Stephen Warnock, Steve Sidwell and Stuart Downing, therefore claims that Lerner did not back his coach are unfounded.
However, if Milner’s sale was sanctioned and Spurs continue to pursue their interest in Young, the loss of two key players would have rendered the investments in previous seasons pointless.
Whether O’Neill was right to leave Villa remains a subjective question. Unless Lerner is able appoint a successor of the same calibre, the club could easily slip back into mid-table mediocrity.
Villa director Krulak implied O’Neill’s ego was out of control, but without the former Celtic boss’ input the West Midlands club would still be ailing in the bottom half of the table. Coveted by Liverpool and Manchester United O’Neill will, unquestionably, be back.