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A three year review of Aston Villa and Martin O'Neill


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All the way from Detroitwich!

Heystally!"]Martin O'Neill has been rebuilding David O'Leary's squad from scratch and it has taken him about three years to get to a stage where he is happy with his first team. I think three years to build a squad is a fair amount of time, especially when we have been getting the results on the pitch as well.

MON took a squad that was potentially relegation threatened and took them in one season to a mid-table side, to a top-six team with a second season, and now to a top-four challenger after a third. That is 11th place, to 6th place, and again 6th place but providing the top four with more to think about with regards to our challenge.

In the past season, with the exception of Liverpool away, we have provided excellent competition against the teams around and above us. We took four points from Arsenal, four from Everton, and one from Man Utd and Liverpool. In both home games against Man Utd and Liverpool, it is arguable that we were the only side that looked like taking all three points. And the away trip to Old Trafford was very close, and we were denied a point by a bit of class and luck.

People want to point to the second half of the season and say this is a failure of MON. But it's easy to say with hindsight that this could have happened. I don't think anybody knew in January when Laursen was injured that he would never play again. And losing Martin Laursen is the single key reason as to why we had such a terrible run in the second half of the season.

People want to point to some of MON's signings as an example of his failure. But this for me is a cop out. MON has brought in players to the club who have vastly improved us:

John Carew - our best forward, a goal-scoring machine when fit, and swapped for Milan Baros. He could have been out of this club after the Ajax incidence, but MON knows how important he is to this club, not just in terms of his goals, but his impact on the fans. Any time he does something good on the pitch, the fans applaude like mad and sing his song, lifting the entire crowd and getting them behind the team, which is only good for the Villa.

Ashley Young - £9.75m, and now worth about three times that much, most assists for the club in the past two seasons and contributing goals too, our biggest threat in the majority of our attacks, with exciting dribbling and pace when faced with one or, as is more likely now, two defenders. MON, with the help of John Robertson, has been very careful in developing him into a potentially world-class player, and should be applauded.

James Milner - £12m, which some people saw as too much money, but not for me. For the amount of money players are costing these days, and as we were taking one of Newcastle's prized assests, £12m is a fine amount to pay for someone with the talent and potential of Milner. He is one of our most hard-working players, he's even been moved to right back this season and got on with the job. Some on here don't think he has skills but I disagree. He is a very tricky player to come up against, and is very good at getting past the full back, on either his right or left foot. Just because he doesn't do extravagent, pointless stepovers like Ronaldo does not mean he is not a skillful player.

Stiliyan Petrov - £6-8m, started well but then dipped in form, but MON took him out of the team to reflect on his performances, put him into a deeper role and now we are seeing the best out of him. We are receiving performances from Stan that far surpass the £6m+ that we paid for him, and he was voted our Player of the Season last season for consistently great performances.

Curtis Davies - £10m, for a young defender with a very bright future. He may have lost some form towards the end of his second season, but this was obviously due to the lack of Martin Laursen's leadership skills next to him. Curtis is far from the finished article, but he has shown some real quality since joining us, getting into Fabio Capello's very first England squad, and I'm certain it will not be his last call up. With a new central colossus in our defence, we are sure to see him produce top quality performances once again.

Nigel Reo-Coker - £8.5m, whilst he hasn't played much football for the past year, he was our first choice midfielder when Stan Petrov had a dip in form. In building a squad, NRC added energy and determination to our midfield, which was badly needed in our second season under MON, and although the performances of Petrov and Gareth Barry have pushed him out in the past season, he is still an excellent squad player to have, and will give 110%. With hopefully a long cup and European campaign in the next season, we will need a big squad to cope with all the games, and a mid-20s player who was made captain of his first club at 18, captain of a Premier League team, and now vice-captain of a top six team, is an invaluable commodity.

Luke Young - £6m, a close second for Player of the Season behind Petrov, had an excellent season at both right back, and left back when asked. Considering Glen Johnson is going to cost either Liverpool or Chelsea three times the amount we paid for Luke, this was an excellent purchase for MON. Luke Young is sure to be a constant starter for Villa for the next three or four years.

Brad Friedel - £2m(ish), a valuable, dependable player to have as our last line of defence. MON used Scott Carson on loan in his second year, but the young keeper had hit and miss performances, particularly after his mistake when playing for England against Croatia. Realising that youth is potentially risky for a position that relies heavily on experience, MON decided not to spend £10m on a keeper with potentially a bright future, and take up a short term option on a trusted keeper, who was considered one of the best in the Premier League.

Zat Knight - £4m, and a fantastic option as a fourth choice defender. Yes he may have his moments but on the whole he is a dependable backup, and with Villa in his blood he will always give his all.

Other purchases, such as Sidwell and Salifou in particular, have been criticised as being pointless considering they don't play, but for me this argument has no credence to it. All teams require players who are backup to the first team, otherwise there would be no cover for injuries or suspensions. Players like Salifou and Harewood were never bought to be first-team players but to provide cover when necessary, and this is why they will be moved on. They were necessary.

MON has also developed players who were here when he arrived:

Gareth Barry was made captain and played consistently in his preferred central midfield position, culminating in him getting back into the England squad, and since then he has been in every single squad.

On his day, Gabby Agbonlahor is considered one of the most feared strikers in the league, mainly due to his pace. At such a young age, there is still more to come from him, and development of his finishing will make him even better.

In his second season, MON managed to get a full 38-game campaign out of both Martin Laursen and Wilfred Bouma, key players in helping Villa to sixth place.

With all of this in mind, there is not really justification for all of the MON slagging that goes on on this board. We are still a team who are building, in the pursuit of a perfect squad. We have done nothing but improve - some may say we have stayed the same this past season, but I disagree. We came closer to getting into the top four than before, and only the loss of Martin Laursen prevented this. On top of this, we got to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup, our first European jaunt in ten years.

Yes we have lost two key players this past year, but I have complete faith that MON will replace them. MON has yet to be in a position where he has had to replace a player. He has always been buying players to push forward, not to take us back to where we were. So no one knows what approach MON will take to replacing Barry and Laursen. He knows we have a solid base with the squad we have, now we need to finish it off with a little extra cover and those two key players.

I will not judge MON's ability to build a team until after this transfer window. We have the potential this year to get into the top four, if we have the right signings in place to keep us strong for the whole season. And I for one am going to stay optimistic, because I want us to keep winning, keep pushing forward, keep improving. And maybe if the majority of fans felt the same way, match day optimism would increase, the crowd would get behind the team much more, and the players would feed off of that in a positive way.

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The standard of Front Page articles has really dropped recently on this site and unfortunately this is another.

You have painted a fantastic picture at Villa Park, and quite frankly at the moment we are not quite there. MON has done a really good job but not as good as you make out.

Your viewpoint is very one dimensional and slanted, even though you have analysed the players it's not impartial in the slightest. I like to see myself as a realistic Villa fan that sees things how they, you do make some good points but just completely neglect that anything is wrong which derives the article of quality.

I have picked out a few crackers:

'Martin O'Neill has been rebuilding David O'Leary's squad from scratch'

- From scratch implies everything new. The previous article written by Trent underlines our losses in Bouma and Laursen who were already at the club when MON got here. Barry, arguably our best player was also here, as was the emergence of Agbonlahor. You can tell me MON got the best out of them and you are right but your sentence doesn't state that, you later on point that out but still go back to Bouma and Laursen being key. DOL was crap, but credit where credit is due.

'Curtis Davies £10m, for a young defender with a very bright future'

He might have a bright future, he has shown glimpses of it. But £10 million seems £5 million too much at this present time. You even highlight yourself that he needed Laursen.

'Nigel Reo-Coker £8.5 million'-

You try your hardest to justify this, but you even start by saying he hasn't played ! He is not worth £8.5 million, if we sold him now it would be closer to £5million

'Other purchases, such as Sidwell and Salifou in particular, have been criticised as being pointless considering they don't play, but for me this argument has no credence to it.'

We don't have the luxury to spend £5 million on a player such as Sidwell for 'backup'. I think most people here agree that he was brought to replace Barry last year.

Have I completely missed it - or have you not mentioned £7.8 million Carlos Cuellar?

I just want the article to have a more down the line point of view, your article has good points but it would have come across a lot better IMO if you included some of the points that I made.

This piece in the message board is fine, but as front page article for this website? Not quite.

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Completely agree with outbyeaster, every signing has played a part where necessary including Cuellar. MON may have paid over the odds for some of the transfers but seeing as we will never know the exact prices paid for players (The FA confirmed they're often wide of the mark) I think we must have faith in MON as the fees mooted may be based on international appearances etc. I hate going to the Villa and hearing the boos weather it be targeted at Gabby, MON or the whole team and it generally gets embarrasing to be tarred as one of these fickle fans!! Definately agree with the Milner comment, I think a lot of people who have never really played or don't understand the game of football don't realise how effective he is, he almost never fails to get his cross in and the delivery is usually top quality and his work rate is a rare added bonus in talented Premiership wingers. I would agree that MON is not quite there yet but not because he's made bad decisions or isn't the manager that his reputation carries, its because its an ongoing job and he's only been doing it for 3 years and if he keeps making progress then I don't think we can complain.

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Excellent post and in complete agreement. The business of competing in the Premier League gets harder every year, yet we've managed to improve consistently over MON's tenure with the club. Nobody is perfect, everybody can improve but we have a lot more to thank Martin for than we do criticise him over.

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LatestConfirmedIn, I completely understand why you've made some of those points. It is not a balanced argument I agree, it is an attempt to take a positive view on how far we've come under O'Neill, looking at the good that has happened, as a sign of things to come. But just to justify some of my points:

-MON may have inherited Laursen, Bouma, Barry and Agbonlahor, but those players have come a long way under his guidance. Bouma has become cult type hero at VP because of how well he's played under MON, not for his year under DOL. He left Laursen's training up to himself which helped him stay fit, playing a massive role in our rise. He got the best out of Barry, who as a result has been an ever-present in the England squad when possible. And maybe DOL could have had the same results with Gabby, but it is MON who has moulded Gabby into the player he is.

-Curtis got used to playing with Laursen, and once we lost Martin it was essentially up to him to lead us at the back. For a young defender in his second Premier League season to do that takes time, it doesn't click instantly. If he'd had that second half of the season with Laursen, he could well have been ready to do a decent job of leading us this coming season. All young defenders need someone to look up to and learn from. Laursen was that for Davies. And considering how much transfer fees are being inflated, £10m at the time looks like a decent bit of business, especially if he can produce performances like he did from Jan 2008 to Jan 2009.

- With NRC, we needed the drive and defensive aspect of his game in our second season, and we got some good performances from him, performances that warranted his transfer fee. This season he hasn't played much simply because Petrov and Barry have been good for the most part. Barry for me slipped in the second half of the season, but MON was never going to drop our captain. Selling him now would result in a loss yes, but only because he hasn't played much, not because he is not a good player. But I'd like to think he can play a role, particularly if used with other young players, as someone to look up to.

-Sidwell was expensive given his lack of games in the past season. Again, like with NRC, Barry and Petrov kept him out of the team with good performances. I don't feel we would have benefitted by dropping one of those and bringing him in. Personally I may have used him more as a sub when one was under-performing, or to close out a game. But I'm not MON. Sidwell has more to offer us, and I'm sure he'll be given more of a role this year with Barry gone. I think Barry being our captain kept him from being subbed or rested. A new central midfielder may not be so ever-present.

-I did miss out Cuellar. But I feel it is hard to judge him based on one season, especially when he was covering right back when Shorey was dropped. The most games he played in the centre of defence was towards the end of the season, when the team hadn't adjusted to Laursen's absence. He had not gotten used to the pace of the Premier League and thus is made out to be a flop. Given more games in a row, I firmly believe he will show the form which won him both Player of the Year and Writers' Player of the Year in Scotland. But like Sidwell, he wasn't bought for one season.

I acknowledge that I'm opinionated, and am not providing an argument as to where MON has fallen down. But my post on the MON thread was an attempt to show our progress in a better light than criticism and weakness, enjoying our rise up the table into a team capable of challenging the top four.

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The standard of Front Page articles has really dropped recently on this site and unfortunately this is another.

I eagerly await your submission to the front page.

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LatestConfirmedIn, I completely understand why you've made some of those points. It is not a balanced argument I agree, it is an attempt to take a positive view on how far we've come under O'Neill, looking at the good that has happened, as a sign of things to come. But just to justify some of my points:

-MON may have inherited Laursen, Bouma, Barry and Agbonlahor, but those players have come a long way under his guidance. Bouma has become cult type hero at VP because of how well he's played under MON, not for his year under DOL. He left Laursen's training up to himself which helped him stay fit, playing a massive role in our rise. He got the best out of Barry, who as a result has been an ever-present in the England squad when possible. And maybe DOL could have had the same results with Gabby, but it is MON who has moulded Gabby into the player he is.

-Curtis got used to playing with Laursen, and once we lost Martin it was essentially up to him to lead us at the back. For a young defender in his second Premier League season to do that takes time, it doesn't click instantly. If he'd had that second half of the season with Laursen, he could well have been ready to do a decent job of leading us this coming season. All young defenders need someone to look up to and learn from. Laursen was that for Davies. And considering how much transfer fees are being inflated, £10m at the time looks like a decent bit of business, especially if he can produce performances like he did from Jan 2008 to Jan 2009.

- With NRC, we needed the drive and defensive aspect of his game in our second season, and we got some good performances from him, performances that warranted his transfer fee. This season he hasn't played much simply because Petrov and Barry have been good for the most part. Barry for me slipped in the second half of the season, but MON was never going to drop our captain. Selling him now would result in a loss yes, but only because he hasn't played much, not because he is not a good player. But I'd like to think he can play a role, particularly if used with other young players, as someone to look up to.

-Sidwell was expensive given his lack of games in the past season. Again, like with NRC, Barry and Petrov kept him out of the team with good performances. I don't feel we would have benefitted by dropping one of those and bringing him in. Personally I may have used him more as a sub when one was under-performing, or to close out a game. But I'm not MON. Sidwell has more to offer us, and I'm sure he'll be given more of a role this year with Barry gone. I think Barry being our captain kept him from being subbed or rested. A new central midfielder may not be so ever-present.

-I did miss out Cuellar. But I feel it is hard to judge him based on one season, especially when he was covering right back when Shorey was dropped. The most games he played in the centre of defence was towards the end of the season, when the team hadn't adjusted to Laursen's absence. He had not gotten used to the pace of the Premier League and thus is made out to be a flop. Given more games in a row, I firmly believe he will show the form which won him both Player of the Year and Writers' Player of the Year in Scotland. But like Sidwell, he wasn't bought for one season.

I acknowledge that I'm opinionated, and am not providing an argument as to where MON has fallen down. But my post on the MON thread was an attempt to show our progress in a better light than criticism and weakness, enjoying our rise up the table into a team capable of challenging the top four.

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The standard of Front Page articles has really dropped recently on this site and unfortunately this is another.

I eagerly await your submission to the front page.

I feel like I have just touched a nerve, it was a mere observation on my behalf.

I have read this site for quite a few years now, prior to becoming a contributor.

What first brought me to this site was the quality of the front page articles;no bias, well written and informative pieces.

Also, due to work commitments I went through a period of missing some of the games and the match reports on here were always excellent and told it how it was and gave me an insight to the game.

However the article written by AVFC-Bristol 'Those stories that just won't go away right now... ' I thought was poor. It was a article merely commenting on mindless speculation from the Daily Star. The writer also recommended the reader a possible new signing and pointed in the direction of youtube!

But if you can't take criticism and turn to a childish comment, fair enough.

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Nice post enjoyed reading that.

Must also aplaude you for some positive words on Zat Knight. Now I'm not his biggest fan and I know he can be a tad calamatous (apologies for spelling) at times but when he's playing well he's such an effective and tidy defender that all his good work goes a bit unnoticed. Also considering the amount of criticism he gets from all angles you never here a peep out of him and always gets his head down and works his hardest. I'll reiterate your point, excellent back up.

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Agree with most of the post but have to disagree with your analysis that the loss of Martin Laursen was the reason for our last third demise.

I think the biggest single reason was MON's failure to make substitutions when required and to alter the way we play at times to match up to our opposition. I would pick a few games to comment upon (my view of course):

- In the Chelsea game we should have really gone at them for the last half an hour as they managed just to stall the game after scoring and we needed an extra man in midfield to match up to their 4-5-1 BUT I can accept a loss at home to the CL finalists

- In the following game, at home to Stoke, MON should have closed the game down by either switching to a 4-5-1 (firming up the tiring middle and pushing the wingers on) or, at a minimum, getting NRC on to break up the opposition game. Ditto West Ham, Man U (a) and Hull (although we did manage to hold on to the latter.

- In the Everton and Liverpool game, particularly the latter, to go in with a two man CM of Barry and Stan against their 4-5-1's was just naive IMO

Can't remember all of the others, but I think MON has shown himself to be tactically naive in that run. I would like to think he can learn from this but he is so stubborn (like Cloughie his Mentor) that I am not sure that he will!

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Its a "mary poppins" attempt at cheering us all up... if your that way inclined.

Let me attempt to pick out just one point.

we win 2 games in 15.... NRC or sidwell don't have a look in,in terms of their best positions, why because Barry & Petrov were playing so well.

Now I'm not saying Nigel and steve are better than Gareth or Stiliyan...but hey how can you deserve to hold on to the shirt with 2 wins in 15 from the Engine room.

some will say Laursens omission was the main culprit and that maybe true.... but sometimes you have to improvise, when the perfect solution is not at hand.

I don't believe there was much of an attempt to do so.

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Its a "mary poppins" attempt at cheering us all up... if your that way inclined.

Let me attempt to pick out just one point.

we win 2 games in 15.... NRC or sidwell don't have a look in,in terms of their best positions, why because Barry & Petrov were playing so well.

Now I'm saying Nigel and steve are better than Gareth or Stiliyan...but hey how can you deserve to hold on to the shirt with 2 wins in 15 from the Engine room.

some will say Laursens omission was the main culprit and that maybe true.... but sometimes you have to improvise, when the perfect solution is not at hand.

I don't believe there was much of an attempt to do so.

Personally I would have either gone to a 4-5-1 when away from home, or put in NRC/Sidwell for Barry more often. I thought Petrov was better than Barry and deserved to play every game. But Barry was the captain, and was not going to be dropped.

I still feel Laursen's loss was such a huge factor, and that with him in the team our run would have been so much better. But it's one of those that we'll never know.

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some will say Laursens omission was the main culprit and that maybe true.... but sometimes you have to improvise, when the perfect solution is not at hand.

I don't believe there was much of an attempt to do so.

I'm not sure I'm reading you right there TRO, if I am then that's the first time I've seen someone criticise last years defense and it's organisation for a lack of improvisation.

I'd wager that the right back who played left back, the two midfielders who played right back and the centre half who played right back might disagree with you.

I think I'd probably argue that there was too much of an attempt to improvise in replacing Laursen.

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I think I'd probably argue that there was too much of an attempt to improvise in replacing Laursen.

I'm not sure it was about replacing Laursen, if anything it was about replacing Bouma because ONeill clearly had little confidence in Shorey, and also about the fact that if you start at 4-4-2, where do you go when it goes wrong and you're chasing the game? 4-3-3? 4-2-4? Stick a winger at full back?

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Nice article heystally. There is a sorry lack of positivity on VT a lot of the time, i'd hate to see what it would be like on here if we were in the bottom half of the table. It's depressing enough when we're top-6!

Being a glass-half-full kind of guy I agree with most of what you've said about our key players above. We have some awesome talent and some strong potential, hopefully all will click this season like it did for the majority of last season, and this board will be a happy place to be.

Fingers crossed eh!

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I would certainly like to see more young talent from our own academy coming through into the Villa first team, but I don't believe Cahill and Davis would add anything which we don't already have now, except getting itchy feet because they're not in the first team.

For me, Cahill is no better than Davies or Cuellar, and Davis is about the same standard as Sidwell and NRC. Hopefully our academy will provide a few more youngsters in the next few years, some of which going on to be key first team players.

From what I've seen Delfouneso and Forrester look like great prospects, but I've heard good things about Gary Gardner amongst other youngsters. Fingers crossed players like these will soon be regular names at VP, which, considering the success of our youngsters in the past three years, would not be a surprise to me.

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some will say Laursens omission was the main culprit and that maybe true.... but sometimes you have to improvise, when the perfect solution is not at hand.

I don't believe there was much of an attempt to do so.

I'm not sure I'm reading you right there TRO, if I am then that's the first time I've seen someone criticise last years defense and it's organisation for a lack of improvisation.

I'd wager that the right back who played left back, the two midfielders who played right back and the centre half who played right back might disagree with you.

I think I'd probably argue that there was too much of an attempt to improvise in replacing Laursen.

you most certainly are not reading me right at all... The improvisation i was referring to was in the midfield.

The defence was the defence and the personnel to go with it.... but you can protect them a little.... you see I'm one of those old fashioned farts that think you start defending from the front and start attacking from the rear.... this modern game is too much for me.

there were times during games c march time that Barry and Petrov were literally wide open and the defence just had everybody and his grandmother running at them.... that IMO could have been quelled by playing Nigel or sidders.... we just sat back in amazement and watched our team getting opened up.... I just remember looking at my mates and we all shaking our heads.

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