Despite many of the pundits and fans suggesting that Martin O’Neill’s sudden departure from Aston Villa is going to have a major negative impact on their season, one thing has been noticeably missing.
Normally, when a manager leaves the club, there is an outpouring of grief from many of the players, claiming how important a manager they were, how sad they are to see them go, and how much they will be missed.
When Mark Hughes was sacked by Manchester City, the players supposedly marched to the boardroom to protest the decision. When Roy Hodgson left Fulham, the reaction of the Fulham players was understandable given the success that he achieved.
When Rafa Benitez left Liverpool, Pepe Reina claimed that it was ‘a sad moment for Liverpool, for Rafa Benitez and for the players.’ However, there have been virtually no comments of this type from the Aston Villa players.
Whilst there will always be players who are happy to see the previous manager leave, as they believe it will give them a better chance for first-team football, the favourites of the previous manager usually make comments about how they will be missed.
Many of the players have stated how surprised they are by the news, but even the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Emile Heskey, and Ashley Young have not said that they are saddened by the move.
Other fringe players have come out suggesting that they are happy at the events. Curtis Davies has criticised Martin O’Neill for having favourites and not giving the other players an opportunity.
Youngster Barry Bannan has explained how he didn’t think he would ever get his chance under O’Neill. Rather than disappointment at the departure, there almost seems to be a sense of relief amongst the players.
Whilst the fans are understandably upset at the decision, there are a growing number of pundits and former players that are coming out attacking Martin O’Neill’s decision. It is not so much the decision, but rather the timing of it that has caused the criticism.
Andy Gray has described it as a ‘smack in the face for Villa fans who have supported him, largely to a man, in the four years he has been there.’
And now, former Villa captain and fan favourite Ian Taylor has claimed that the criticism that O’Neill has received is ‘entirely justified.’
He went on to add that ‘O’Neill had a big ego...there’s no doubting walking out on your club for four years just five days before the start of the new season was a selfish act. If you had genuine love for the club, you wouldn’t do it. The timing was simply awful.’
It has been reported that O’Neill was upset at the financial side of the club, which was what caused him to storm out of the club. He was supposedly told that he had to sell some of the higher earners who were not playing.
The likes of Steve Sidwell, Habib Beye, Nigel Reo-Coker, and Curtis Davies are all reportedly earning over £40k per week, and barely appeared last season.
Furthermore, he was told that he would not receive the entire James Milner fee to strengthen the squad.
Clearly, O’Neill’s frustrations are understandable. All managers want the money to be able to strengthen and challenge the upper echelons of the league. However, it is not as though he has not received backing from Randy Lerner in the past.
Lerner has injected £179 million of his own money over the past four years to qualify for the Champions League. This has not been achieved, despite several near misses, and all he has to show for it is a loss of £44 million for the last year.
Those kinds of losses are unsustainable, and it seems clear that some financial prudence was required.
However, O’Neill does not seem to have been in agreement, and rather than stay and work under the new constraints, he walked. These issues are not only affecting Villa, though.
As Andy Gray pointed out, ‘Martin's not alone in his frustration. But did Alex Ferguson throw his toys out of the pram when the £80 million they received for Ronaldo wasn't handed to him to purchase players and storm out of Old Trafford? No he didn't. Harry Redknapp, as we all know, has been desperate to sign players all summer. Has he signed any? No, he hasn't.’
An alternative theory is that Randy Lerner had simply lost confidence in Martin O’Neill’s ability to spend money reliably. Whilst it is undeniable that O’Neill made some excellent signings during his reign at Villa Park, there are a number of less convincing signings.
£10m was spent on Curtis Davies, who made only two appearances last season. £5m went on Steve Sidwell, £6m on Luke Young and £8.5m on Nigel Reo-Coker, all of whom spent the majority of the season sitting on the bench.
All of these players are also on fairly high wages, offered by O’Neill.
So, there could be an argument that rather than being the major blow to Villa’s season that it appeared to be at first viewing. Indeed, maybe the relief at the departure of O’Neill may lead to a surge in morale at the club.
Kevin MacDonald will take charge for the opening game against West Ham tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how the game pans out. He has said that ‘the slate has been wiped clean’ as far as all the players are concerned.
He has had an excellent spell in charge of the reserves, playing some excellent football. He is well-respected by the players, and has a close bond with many of the younger players, whom he has brought through the ranks.
He is unlikely to be the long-term solution to the Villa Park managerial job, but he is a safe pair of hands to cover in the short-term whilst Randy Lerner searches for O’Neill’s replacement.
Assuming Lerner can find the right man for the job, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Midlands side.
It is the most important decision he has had to make since buying the club from Doug Ellis almost four years ago and could determine the future of the club for the next decade.