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Why O'Neill must get it right this summer


ChrisVillan
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Martin O'Neill has a unique relationship with his employers and his supporters. But could the goodwill come to an abrupt end?

Today, Aston Villa Football Club is worlds away from the dying days of the Doug Ellis era.

As fans, we are finally being actively engaged with by the club and we've been spoiled by little Villa miracles since Randy Lerner swaggered into town and started setting the claret and blue world to rights. We're 'sponsored' by a local children's hospice, and we're on the brink of Europe.

It's a far cry from the almost guaranteed relegation had the inept duo of Ellis and David O'Leary continued to watch the club spiral downwards. The Irishman almost seemed to be smirking about it at times.

But the mood is a-stirring among Villa fans this summer, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice it.

Inevitably, opinions are dividing as we reach our first real crossroads of the new era. From here, it seems that we either succeed - that means a UEFA Cup run and/or a consolidation in fifth or sixth place this season - or we fall back. The third road is the one straight ahead of us, and Cristiano Ronaldo is sitting on the pavement watching Frank Lampard blocking the way. Top two is a mere pipe dream.

Martin O'Neill must take huge credit for getting us where we are today. He is, it seems, almost unsackable. Mr Lerner appears to have endless faith in O'Neill, the kind of faith on which he thrives. O'Neill can work unhindered, and the results on the pitch have been mighty impressive.

He is also subject to (recently) unprecedented supporter popularity. This is because of great performances, some excellent results and, probably most tellingly, unswerving passion for the Villa.

In other words, it looks unlikely that Martin O'Neill is going anywhere in a hurry. And yet I just have the creeping suspicion that this summer is make or break for the Villa boss. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that going into the season with a weak squad, coupled with a bad start, could see the Irishman skating around on ever-thinning ice.

Starter for ten: we have a wonderful opportunity to return to European football. At this point, we're level at 2-2 following the away leg at Danish side Odense. We were, to my eyes, seriously lacking in quality on Saturday and we failed to impose ourselves on the match after the first 15 minutes. We can debate why that is, but the fact remains that if we fail to negotiate our way through the Intertoto Cup, failure's roots lay in Denmark.

Another reason that O'Neill must succeed this summer is that it is glaringly obvious to all and sundry that we need both quality and numbers, and exactly where they are needed. We need quality in midfield, in goal and in the centre of defence. A right winger would be desirable, as would a prolific goalscorer.

The real bone of contention? The notorious right back position, vacated by Aaron Hughes and Mark Delaney once upon a time and covered variously by Gary Cahill, Craig Gardner and, impressively, Olof Mellberg. Mellberg's ability and professionalism did little to mask O'Neill's failure to replace Hughes and Delaney, though, and it is frankly staggering that we still have not signed a right back - of any standard - this summer.

Going into this season with no right full back would surely erode a good deal of the fondness O'Neill currently enjoys.

Let's not forget that O'Neill also spent three weeks at Euro 2008 earlier in the summer. At the time I didn't think this problematic, and I still don't necessarily believe that to be the case. But if we face Manchester City without significant improvements to the team, questions will be rightly asked.

Then, of course, there's the question of numbers. We seem to forever have the smallest squad in the league, and we were very lucky with injuries last season. Suffice to say that I doubt we would achieve sixth position next year unless the squad is bulked up considerably.

So I think we've reached the end of Martin O'Neill's honeymoon period, and he will come in for some serious criticism come the end of August if things aren't going well on and off the pitch. We simply must consolidate or improve this season, and right now I don't believe us to be in a position to do so. The fans are bound to get irritated if they perceive a lack of improvement to have resulted from another lumbering transfer window.

What of Mr Lerner? Well, I don't know him at all, but what I will say is this: if I'd saved a football club from beginning a doom-laden slide, forked out for mosaics, stuck a mate on the fansites, turned down sponsorship money, paid for Stiliyan Petrov, Ashley Young and Nigel Reo-Coker, and a fair bit for some others too, I wouldn't be too pleased to find myself, my wallet and my commitment being questioned by nonplussed football fans.

I'm sure that's not how Mr Lerner would see it, as I suspect he and O'Neill are kindred spirits in many ways. But what happens when the flags and banners start to come out?

I'll end on this point, and it worries me, because I thought these days were over. Are we as Villa fans now programmed in such a way that we start getting itchy feet as the infamous three-year cycle nears its end? Maybe it's just me. Scary.

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Brilliantly put, Chris. I totally share your outlook.

As OBE put it, we're in the stage of being torn between a mixture of hope and fear as regards the team and squad.

We all ( I guess) see the reasons to believe that the "revolution" could continue, but we all (I guess) have the fear that it will not do so.

The key is signings. I have no doubt that huge effort is going into continued re-shaping of the squad, but I also can see the reasons some people are expressing concern in ever more frantic comments.

Que sera sera.

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A good article, but I don't think that either MON or Randy will let us fail. Both have complete faith in one another and compared to some of our rivals, this could well turn out to be key.

I hope, and I think I kind of believe, that you're right.

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Great article, I love the new regime, but looking at the present situation, best player wanting away, and after two years no decent right back, it is worrying .

Come on lets sign the right players to give the fans something to look forward to the up coming season.

This is our moment dont lets fu*k it up Martin and Randy.

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Can someone please explain to me why we are signing Friedel and Blackburn are signing Robinson? Would we rather not sign a younger keeper with a sell on value? Please General Krulak, speak to me - what is going on?

Ummm...

Because Friedel is a better goalkeeper than Robinson?

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The main article and some of the responses are very interesting. However, the idea that in general Villa fans are starting to get twitchy and are losing faith in the new regime does seem a bit at odds with the news that season ticket sales are at higher levels than last season. That suggests an increase in confidence, and I think an article claiming to detect a general trend of opinion amongst Villa fans needs to explain this seeming contradiction.

I was particularly struck at the suggestion (threat?) that, if MON doesn't produce more magic this season, fans will start protesting and bringing out banners. This reminded me of the events in the third year of Alex Ferguson's managership at Man U, when the fans unfurled a banner at the end of the season saying: "Three years of excuses and it's still crap. Ta ra Fergie." Fans are by their nature impatient and have a simplistic view of what is needed to make their team successful - buy us the best players, play fantastic football and win lots of trophies and titles. Simple. When it doesn't happen, as, sadly, for most clubs it won't, they start to complain and the club's owners then have a choice. It is easy to sack the manager and get a new one in - ideally, a popular former player, as Newcastle did with Keegan. But, as the Ferguson example shows, fans are not necessarily very good at judging the worth of a manager,and the other choice is for clubs to back their own judgement and stick with their manager through periods of unpopularity as teams like Man U and Everton (and in a different way Arsenal - though Wenger is never criticised by the fans) have notably done. Those few clubs are rare in their approach to supporting the manager and, as ChrisVillan says, it remains to be seen whether Randy Lerner will support MON through times of unpopularity with the fans. So many clubs go for the option of switching managers frequently - Spurs, Man C, West Ham (and, in a former era, one deadly Doug) for example - without obvious success. But it is an easy way to appease the fans.

I would like to think that the regime at Villa is not so weak and that they will continue on the course they have set and create enough stability to enable us to build consistently season by season to a position where we can challenge the top teams. But nothing is predictable in football and I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

What I would bet on is that Villa fans will get impatient and call for MON's sacking. He must know that and Randy Lerner probably does. If Villa fans were to succeed in getting MON sacked, it would in my opinion count as a fairly spectacular foot-shooting operation.

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I was particularly struck at the suggestion (threat?) that, if MON doesn't produce more magic this season, fans will start protesting and bringing out banners.

Didn't come across too well, that. It was deliberately exaggerated, and certainly not a threat.

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What of Mr Lerner? Well, I don't know him at all, but what I will say is this: if I'd saved a football club from beginning a doom-laden slide, forked out for mosaics, stuck a mate on the fansites, turned down sponsorship money, paid for Stiliyan Petrov, Ashley Young and Nigel Reo-Coker, and a fair bit for some others too, I wouldn't be too pleased to find myself, my wallet and my commitment being questioned by nonplussed football fans.

Good article however that bit is the bit I have the gripe with (not you personally) I understand he has brought the mosaic and the pub etc but I would also like to point out that it does not have anything to do with onfield sucess.

Regarding players, I really wonder what the net spend is, especially if we sell Barry for £17m

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We have the best manager and the best owner and we will one day have the best team. It won't happen in one summer but things are clearly on the up at Villa Park and the time for banners, flags and 3-year cycles is past. In Martin & Randy we can trust.

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The main article and some of the responses are very interesting. However, the idea that in general Villa fans are starting to get twitchy and are losing faith in the new regime does seem a bit at odds with the news that season ticket sales are at higher levels than last season. That suggests an increase in confidence, and I think an article claiming to detect a general trend of opinion amongst Villa fans needs to explain this seeming contradiction.

I was particularly struck at the suggestion (threat?) that, if MON doesn't produce more magic this season, fans will start protesting and bringing out banners. This reminded me of the events in the third year of Alex Ferguson's managership at Man U, when the fans unfurled a banner at the end of the season saying: "Three years of excuses and it's still crap. Ta ra Fergie." Fans are by their nature impatient and have a simplistic view of what is needed to make their team successful - buy us the best players, play fantastic football and win lots of trophies and titles. Simple. When it doesn't happen, as, sadly, for most clubs it won't, they start to complain and the club's owners then have a choice. It is easy to sack the manager and get a new one in - ideally, a popular former player, as Newcastle did with Keegan. But, as the Ferguson example shows, fans are not necessarily very good at judging the worth of a manager,and the other choice is for clubs to back their own judgement and stick with their manager through periods of unpopularity as teams like Man U and Everton (and in a different way Arsenal - though Wenger is never criticised by the fans) have notably done. Those few clubs are rare in their approach to supporting the manager and, as ChrisVillan says, it remains to be seen whether Randy Lerner will support MON through times of unpopularity with the fans. So many clubs go for the option of switching managers frequently - Spurs, Man C, West Ham (and, in a former era, one deadly Doug) for example - without obvious success. But it is an easy way to appease the fans.

I would like to think that the regime at Villa is not so weak and that they will continue on the course they have set and create enough stability to enable us to build consistently season by season to a position where we can challenge the top teams. But nothing is predictable in football and I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

What I would bet on is that Villa fans will get impatient and call for MON's sacking. He must know that and Randy Lerner probably does. If Villa fans were to succeed in getting MON sacked, it would in my opinion count as a fairly spectacular foot-shooting operation.[/quote]

A well considered reponse to Chris' excellent article.

It's apparent on other boards that some fans are already more than restless about our lack of transfer activity and that the general is nothing more than PR exercise.

I trust in the current management regime and until the window closes, can wait to see what the end of August brings, but what I don't hope to see is MON saying he couldn't get the players he wanted or whoever he brings in is short on pre-season work, which he seemed to place great store on last year.

Friedel is hopefully a first part of a longer term strategy regarding Guznan, but this presumes he gets his work permit, so I hope the Villa have done enough preliminary work to feel confident about this.

As far as RB is concerned, there seems to have been more than a few moving around, but we've only been linked with one, who Chelsea unsurprisingly was preferred to B6. Maybe Barry will go to the Gooners and we'll get Hoyte as a part of the deal, if he will come and if MON rates him.

One thing's for sure there are almost as many opinions among the fans as there are fans about who Villa should buy, Friedel v Robinson etc. but in the end, it's MON's job on the line and it depends on how long the Chairman retains his belief in his manager.

I agree with Briney however, at this time we would be shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot to even think about changing our manager now.

One footnote, as I type this, I've just had a call on my mobile with a message from Laursen encouraging me to call the ticket office for Saturday's match, does this mean our first home European game for a long time is short on attendance? Unfortunately, a trip from Spain for this game isn't on, but later on in our European campaign against more distinguished company, certainly.

UTV

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