O'Neill becomes a liability in Villa bookkeeping exercise
S upporters are shocked, club directors seem relieved and the players were apparently delighted. Some of the squad were said to have been texting each other images of champagne bottles in celebration.
A lot has been said of Martin O'Neill's resignation as Aston Villa manager last week, but with less than a week to go to yesterday's opening league fixture, not one of us saw it coming.
As in the majority of cases, few Villa players have been available to say anything of any interest, but Curtis Davies took the opportunity to have a dig as soon as the news broke. He said he was one of several players at the club who believed they were treated unfairly by O'Neill. He was clearly pleased to see him go.
Davies isn't the first player to come out with snide comments about a recently-departed manager, but had he been a regular in O'Neill's team his words may have carried more weight. Players often dismiss the judgement of those who don't rate them. He seemed certain that his absence from Villa's starting line-up owed more to the inability of the manager to recognise his talent rather than any shortcomings of his own.
O'Neill was not one for rotating his squad unnecessarily, so the same players were consistently looking on from the sidelines. Despite being bought by O'Neill for £8m, Davies was one of those. While his frustration is understandable, three top-six finishes in a row suggested O'Neill was getting his team selections right more often than not. And but for poor refereeing, they may well have lifted the Carling Cup five months ago also. All of Aston Villa's players had daily opportunities to impress in training, but the results and performances of O'Neill's starting line-up made it difficult for any to dislodge those in possession of the shirt. Some see that better than others.
While there has been no word yet from O'Neill, it appears the financial worries at Villa Park brought about his departure. Owner Randy Lerner has kept his comments vague, leaving the details to fellow director, General Charles Krulak, who said: "The reality is that the wage-to-revenue issue was not addressed and Martin apparently was unwilling to help address it. He quit."
For all those with the best interests of the club at heart, there is now a concerted effort to reduce the wage bill and return it to a level which is somewhere nearer the realms of sustainability. They are currently a long way from that. The club's salaries cost an annual £71m, which accounts for almost 85 per cent of the club's turnover; there should be no complaints from O'Neill that he was not financially supported by Lerner. But that doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't.
Managers judge themselves and each other on the quality of their CVs. For example, I can imagine David O'Leary (O'Neill's predecessor at Villa as it happens) sitting next to someone right now out in Dubai, boring them with tales of Leeds United and Champions League semi-finals. I would guess he is paying little attention to the long-term damage the club suffered in getting there. That's because managers are not lauded for their ability to balance the books or turn a profit. They are paid to achieve success on the field. It is the responsibility of others to ensure stability away from it.
If the current level of spending was allowed to continue, Lerner would have been ultimately responsible if things got out of hand, and O'Neill would simply have walked in the event that it did. Chasing silverware and Champions League football is all well and good, but such investment cannot continue indefinitely if neither looks likely.
So it appears O'Neill was unwilling to accept the glaringly obvious, and walked as a result.
The relationship between Lerner and O'Neill is thought to have been strained for quite some time, and Krulak claimed O'Neill was incapable of seeing the financial bigger picture, believing he saw himself as "bigger than the club". That may or may not have been the case, but should not be taken as fact simply because a director says it is so. Directors and managers have been at odds for years, with both parties dismissive of the other's input.
It is probably up to Martin O'Neill as to how long he remains out of work, for he will be approached about every job which becomes available this season, and probably even some that aren't available.
He has yet to speak of his intentions, but you would assume he will fare better than the man who went before him. It took O'Leary four years to get a job when he left Villa Park. I'm amazed he got back so quickly.