skip to content

The best of British: Martin O'Neill is building for the future at Aston Villa

22 Jan 2010 09:02:01

The best of British: Martin O'Neill is building for the future at Aston Villa

The muffled sound of agitated voices spoiled the otherwise tranquil atmosphere at aluxury Dutch hotel during Martin O'Neill's first week in charge of Aston Villa. Residents on the terrace glanced up from their newspapers and brunch as Olof Mellberg's studded boots clattered over concrete to the changing rooms at the Doorwerth Hotel, near Arnhem, as the intensity of Villa's pre-season cranked up a notch. 'Sounds like an interesting session, Olof,' chirped one observer to the Swedish defender. 'Oh yes,' the centre half said with a smile after Villa's first team had spent an hour tearing into each other. 'That has raised the temperature around here.'  Up for the cup: O'Neill jumps for joy as Villa toppled Blackburn 7-4 on aggregate An hour later, after lunch, O'Neill deliberated on his findings following a few sessionswith players he had clearly kicked out of their comfort zone. 'We need to find different ways of scoring a goal,' he said. And therein lies the secret of Aston Villa's success. A willingness to fight, a drive to succeed allied to an ability to score goals.  One former Villa player, an international, said that there is no great method to O'Neill's coaching. 'I didn't do any pattern play under him,' said the forward, who had better remain anonymous in case the Irishman carries out reprisals. 'We didn't really do much by way of work on set-pieces either, although people will find that difficult to believe. 'The fitness work was pretty standard. Most of our play was off the cuff. However, Martin knows what he wants: centre halves, defend; full backs, stop crosses and defend; midfielders, help out at either end of the pitch and create goals; and strikers, score them. 'As long as you are prepared to give him what he wants, then Martin O'Neill will stand by you morning, noon and night.' Wembley bound: Agbonlahor is fouled by Chris Samba for Villa's penalty Villa are now as near as damn it cast in O'Neill's mould. It is by design that he has collected young, strong, determined players who know what the Premier League is all about a group that carried Villa to a thrilling Carling Cup semi-final victory over Blackburn on Wednesday. He is no xenophobe. But in his sides at Leicester and Celtic, there was a strong quota of domestic players. In fact, Scandinavians apart, there is little foreign talent. He knows what he is getting from those schooled in the English leagues. This reduces the element of risk in the transfer market. It is too simplistic to suggest that power and pace are all he is after. That would overlook Ashley Young's trickery, Stiliyan Petrov's passing ability or James Milner's honest industry. To say nothing of the bloody-mindedness of his defence. True, there are occasions when Villa could use a Plan B. There has rarely been a rapier-like thrust through the heart of an opponents' defence. They suffered from that deficiency against West Ham last Sunday, drawing a game they should have won. Snatching a draw from the jaws of victory: John Carew sees his goal disallowed during the 0-0 draw with West Ham However, O'Neill knew when he teamed up with Villa's owner RandyLerner that he would get a chance to compete at a high level in themarket. The American'ssupport has been generous. TheIrishman has been allowed to fashion his squad and, while ManchesterCity have blown a hole in the English transfer market with theirmoney-no-object approach, Villa have taken a steadier course. Itwould be churlish to suggest that billionaire Lerner should competewith the Arab owners at Eastlands, but since the chairman has spentaround £120million since arriving at Villa Park three-and-a-half yearsago, perhaps he had a right to expect the club to end their 10-yearwait to reach a major final. This outlay has been offset by£30m in sales, notably the £12m raised from Gareth Barry's defection toEastlands. A string of players who featured in O'Neill's first matchhave been subsequently released as unfit for purpose. Interestingly,apart from Mellberg and arguably Steven Davis, who ended up atRangers none who featured in that game at the Emirates have gone onto better things. And consider the facts. In the decade before O'Neill arrived, there was no real European football, precious little success against the big four, no Wembley finals. Definite progress. So far, at least. 'I wouldn't say they are the best set I've ever managed,' he said, 'Celtic had some really fine players. I've got the utmost regard for the players at Leicester but the thing about this side is that given a fair wind they will improve. 'Reaching the final is always a sign of progress but is it a genuine marker? Maybe people will say that breaking the big teams' stranglehold might be the thing. 'However, I do know that for the majority of supporters getting to Wembley would be a big boost.' Judging by the fans' jubilant reaction to Wednesday night, he is not wrong.  Martin O'Neill and his League Cup love affairMartin O'Neill has won the League Cup twice as a player and twice as a manager. Having guided Aston Villa to this year's Carling Cup final, the Ulsterman could make it a high five at Wembley next month. Here Sportsmail recounts his love affair with the competition... Nottingham Forest 1 Liverpool 0 March 22, 1978 Four days after a goalless draw at Wembley, John Robertson's disputed 53rd-minute penalty proves decisive in the replay. O'Neill put in two industrious shifts. Nottingham Forest 3 Southampton 2 March 17, 1979 O'Neill played the full 90 minutes for Forest as Brian Clough's side retained the trophy at Wembley thanks to two goals from Garry Birtles and a Tony Woodcock strike. Merry men: O'Neill (right) with Forest in 1979 Leicester 1 Middlesbrough 0 April 16, 1997 Steve Claridge's extra-time winner handed O'Neill his first major honour as a manager 18 years after winning the Cup as a player. The first match at Wembley finished 1-1, but Claridge was on target in the replay at Hillsborough. Leicester 2 Tranmere 1 Feb 27, 2000 A year after failing at the final hurdle against Tottenham, O'Neill's Foxes beat Tranmere, of the second tier. Two goals from captain Matt Elliott saw City become the last winners of the trophy at the old Wembley. But it was to be O'Neill's swansong as he left for Celtic four months later.  Ten-goal thriller has Aston Villa hero James Milner jumping for joyAston Villa 6 Blackburn 4 (agg 7-4): Villa win amazing ten goal thrillerVIDEO SPECIAL: Perfect ten - Villa and Blackburn followed where Spurs, Real Madrid, Newcastle, QPR and Derby went years agoASTON VILLA FC


Daily_Mail

Sponsored links