Why Martin O'Neill left Aston Villa FC
On Monday 9th August 2010, the Football world received the shock news that Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill had resigned with immediate effect. After giving a brief statement in which he thanked staff, players and fans for supporting him during his four-year tenure, instant speculation began as to why the tenacious and likeable Northern Irishman had left the club he had improved beyond all recognition.
Brief Martin O’Neill Profile:
Martin O’Neill honed his football career at Nottingham Forrest in the 1980’s under one of arguably the best managers ever to grace the game; namely, Brian Clough. Under his tutelage, O’Neill learnt his trade well and after winning the European Cup in 1980, began his fledgling managerial career in 1987 with Lincolnshire minnows Grantham Town (Anon, 2010). In 1995, O’Neill, after a five-year reign as Wycombe Wanderers boss, landed a coveted, but brief one-year spell at Norwich city.
After successes at Leicester City (1995-2000) and Celtic (2000-2005), at which he enjoyed hero-worship status, particularly after beating Rangers 6-2 in his first 'Old Firm' game (Anon, 2002), O’Neill was at last given the chance to manage a Premiership side, joining Aston Villa in 2006. He had undoubted credentials as a manager and was even tipped for the 'biggest job in football' - England Manager.
O’Neill turned Aston Villa’s fortunes around, building a base of young English talent (something seldom seen in the bigger teams), which played with style and a cutting edge. In 2008 this policy promised to bear fruit as the unthinkable looked certain; Aston Villa were in third at Christmas, and with 2009 approaching, held a healthy lead over evergreen top-four finishers Arsenal. Despite being pipped by the resurgent Gunners, and falling to sixth, O’Neill had shown he could still compete with the big boys and with less resources to boot.
So why did Martin O’Neill leave Aston Villa?
Unless Martin O’Neill 'tells all' in an autobiography, the real reasons he left Aston Villa will never be fully known. However, if one were to hazard a guess, which is all journalists can do at this point, then the reasons are surely centred around the bane of all managers lives; money. That is to say the lack of it, or how much each manager can expect to be allowed to spend. In particular, the recent debacle of midfielder James Milner’s proposed exit, (and the alleged failure of owner Randy Lerner to allow O’Neill to reinvest the sale’s funds in new players) seems to be the crux of why O’Neill left Aston Villa.
Other possible reasons in the media include the speculation that he may have allegedly lost the confidence of some of his players. This has been corroborated by recent unpalatable rumours of some players sending each other champagne in celebration of O’Neill’s departure. However this seems to be a small minority of largely second-rate players, who have failed to impress and are bitter at their lack of starts, and would probably be on the bench again when the new manager arrives.
Another reason why O’Neill left Aston Villa was the supposed strained relationship with owner American owner Randy Lerner. From the recent transfer speculation that crops up every August and January, it seems possible that O’Neill’s team was allegedly being sold from under him, with a host of players on the transfer list. This would create a problem as each manager builds a team in their own image recruiting certain types of players, each with certain characteristics and temperament compatible with the manager’s style. As Martin O’Neill had been given the job of trying to break the top four, he would have rightly expected to be allowed to do it his way, seeing as he was the professional. However, if the very core of his team was being sold without his agreement, this would make his strategy and long-term plans untenable, resulting in his resignation.
Every manager in the top seven teams in the Premier League has one overall brief, that is to finish as high as they can, preferably in a top-four position, which will all but guarantee a Champions League spot and millions of pounds.
The problem lies in the fact that the current top four of Arsenal, Manchester Untied, Chelsea and formerly Liverpool, have enjoyed an almost unchallenged dominance of these top-four spots for the last decade. This has afforded their managers a vast war chest, which they use to lure the best players in the world to their teams, hence helping to ensure a similar top-four finish each year. The system results in a perpetual dominance of the league (hence the now engrained 'Top-Four' names as above) and means that teams like Aston Villa with more modest resources find it all but impossible to compete.
Managers leaving football clubs is a common, if lamentably frequent occurrence in the modern game. With wealthy owners and chairman anxious for results and the coveted 'holy grail' of a top-four finish, it is no wonder that the average survival rate of a Premiership manager is now only one or two years.
The stand made by managers such as Martin O’Neill is essential in upholding the ethos and morals of the game of football. What was once a working class game for the masses has descended into a financial money making scheme for the top two or three percent of society. Portsmouth is a prime example of this, achieving the unenviable mantle of several different owners in as many months. Over- zealous fans calling for a manager’s head after a few losses should consider the bigger picture. Surely building a team that plays attractive football, and not buying over-rated and over-priced players to chase elusive Champion’s League places is the only way to run a football club.
If managers like O’Neill and particularly Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, do not occasionally stand up for their principles, about how a club should be built, as oppose to accumulating mere financial profit for their bosses, then football will continue into a murky decline of greed and results driven 'anti-football'.
Anonymous. (2010). Grantham Town FC – Club History. From http://www.granthamtownfc.com/pages.php?page_id=198 (Accessed 08/12/10).
Anonymous. (2002). Scottish FA Cup – Profile: Martin O’Neill. From http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/scottish_cup/1961921.stm (Accessed 08/12/10).