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The Libero - Natural conclusion to O'Neill's time at Villa

Published: 11 Aug 2010 - 06:30:53

If proof were needed that the modern game revolves around money, look no further than this week's not so shocking news at Villa Park.

Martin O'Neill's resignation from his managerial post boiled down to one thing - cash. Or, more to the point, a lack of it. Without money in today's game, it is difficult - no, virtually impossible - to compete with the best, and it seems that O'Neill had none left to spend.

Three consecutive sixth-place finishes suggested that O'Neill had hit a brick wall with Villa; he had taken them as far as he could with the resources available to him. In order to improve, he needed investment in the squad, something Randy Lerner was not willing to fund any more.

The American owner had previously been generous with his cash, stumping up enough to bring in a plethora of names over the years, with varying degrees of success. But with Villa failing to progress as expected over the past few seasons, the well soon dried up. Clearly that frustrated O'Neill, although he cannot lay the blame for his departure on a lack of transfer funds alone and he too must shoulder some responsibility for Villa's stagnation.

O'Neill can take a great deal of credit for bringing to Villa Park the likes of James Milner and Ashley Young, both of whom have blossomed under his tutelage into vibrant attacking players. So too Gabriel Agbonlahor, another exciting young player capable to terrorising opposition defences on his day and who came on leaps and bounds under O'Neill.

Yet even with such a wealth of talent in his squad, Villa were often pretty dull to watch when O'Neill employed tactics that failed to play to those players' strengths. Arsene Wenger famously accused Villa of playing a "very efficient English game with long balls" last season. That might have been a little harsh, and O'Neill was quick to refute the claim, but there was an element of truth to Wenger's rise.

Employing the likes of John Carew or Emile Heskey in a lone striker's role would appear to make sense with wingers on either flank capable of getting to the by-line and delivering crosses into the box. But when they are used as target men for long balls from the back, productivity is immediately lost. So too, unfortunately, is the entertainment value.

Yet if it did work, would Villa fans really be in a position to complain? Of course not. This is a club, after all, that has had two measly League Cup victories to shout about since the glory days of the early 1980s, and nothing at all since 1996.

But when the benefits of that brand of football are not evident, with no signs of improvement on the horizon, fans' frustrations are understandable. The seeds of discontent were sown the season before last, when the first murmurs of mutiny were heard in the Holte End, before it escalated to full-blown booing of O'Neill during the last campaign.

And when that spread to the training ground, where several players were thought to be unhappy with the direction in which O'Neill was taking the club, the love affair between the manager and the club had come to a natural conclusion.

The lack of transfer funds, coupled with the club's apparent willingness to offload players like Milner and Young against O'Neill's wishes sealed the deal. He had to go. So, who next for Villa?

A host of names have already been thrown into the hat, among them Sven-Goran Eriksson, Bob Bradley, Alan Curbishley, Martin Jol and Juergen Klinsmann. Whoever Lerner plumps for - and it will be in Villa's best interests to get someone in as quickly as possible - will be tasked with injecting some life into the club and bettering a sixth-place finish, if not this season, then certainly the next.

But how can that be done? With Milner on the verge of an exit and Young possibly following, how can a new manager be expected to improve on O'Neill's achievements? There's still a decent enough pool of players to work with at Villa Park, but are they really capable to breaking into Champions League contention?

Once again, it comes down to money. Villa fans can only hope that Lerner has more faith in his new manager on the transfer market than he did latterly with O'Neill, and that the purse strings are loosened before the current transfer window closes and then again in January.

Otherwise memories of the club's glory days will be in real danger of slipping even further away.

READ THE LIBERO EVERY WEDNESDAY EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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