Villa crisis: O'Neill threatens to quit at end of season
Published 23:00 01/04/10 By Ian Edwards
Martin O’Neill is not a man to make idle threats.
So there is a distinct possibility he could look Randy Lerner in the eye this summer and hand him his signed exit note from Aston Villa.
And O’Neill believes that will leave Villa counting the loss of a `breath of fresh air’ and one of the best managers they have seen in the last 25-years.
Even if the one thing his mentor Brian Clough taught him was to wait for the `b******s to sack you first so you get your money,’ O’Neill is seriously considering the prospect of life after Villa Park.
If he does not get the reaction he is looking for from his players, supporters and owner between now and the summer summit with Lerner to cast a critical eye over the season - then he reserves the right to turn his back on the whole thing.
“At the end of it all, I will sit down here and talk to the chairman at the end of the season, and we will see where we are positioned,’ said O’Neill.
“People make judgements and calls and things, I will see, and if the Aston Villa fans are disgruntled with it, I will take it into consideration.
“If the chairman, who will have a big say in proceedings, agrees, and interestingly I will have a say in proceedings, because it is my life.
“I’ll have a look. We will see where we are positioned. That is the best time to go and make that assessment.
“There will be people with a big say in proceedings. I include Villa, the chairman, and myself. That’s what I’m saying. It doesn’t need me to keep going and explaining what I have said. If I haven’t articulated it well enough to you, then that is where I am going.’
Ironically, just a few days after idle rumours on the internet and radio claimed that O’Neill had already cashed in his chips, the Tweeters who trumpteted his departure could turn out far more prophetic than they ever dreamed.
O’Neill appears to be growing weary and last weekend’s 7-1 humiliation at FA Cup opponents Chelsea may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Ulsterman who is fed up of the instant demands for success in the Premier League.
O’Neill is angry over the constant speculation regarding his working relationship with Lerner, which appears functional at best, after being told to operate a `spend to buy policy.’
He has been appalled at Villa fans booing his side off in their previous two home games, despite guiding them to one Wembley final and another FA Cup semi-final as well as maintaining a spirited challenge for a Champions League qualifying berth.
Criticisms of his heavy spending, which has been marked at £179m in less than four years, with nothing tangible to show for such an outlay have also stoked the fires within the fiery 56-year-old.
And suggestions that his players are no longer with him after turning down a sunshine break to Portugal this week have just added to the sense of burning anger within a man who insists his record as Villa boss stands comparison to all managers since Tony Barton left in 1984.
"In recent times I’d say I’d be a breath of fresh air looking at this club and that is putting a few things in perspective," said O’Neill.
"At the end of it all from where we were four seasons ago with a disaffected club in that August time we had sold 12,000 season tickets. The team was close to relegation.
"We have reached the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-final. I have the utmost regard for some managers who have been here before. I think that Graham Taylor was an excellent manager in his first spell here. Ron Atkinson has proved himself an excellent manager.
"By the same token, I must stand up for myself somewhere along the way. You can be self-effacing all until you are blue in the face.
"Mr Lerner has invested a lot of money. It was his choosing to buy it. By the time August comes around I will have been here four years. I’ve invested £80m of his in the team.
"If you are running a business you have to sell and buy players at the same time. If any of you want to do the figures, I’ve invested £80m. I was pleased to do so and he was pleased to give me.
"That equates to £20m per year at the end of it all. If the chairman so desires which he has not intimated to me, that the club is choosing to sell four or five players - and we know who those players are - you would get a return on your money - with interest. I think all that has been forgotten.
"Somewhere along the way in terms of investment, I know he’s very pleased with the players that we have got here and who are major acquisitions for the club. Somewhere along the way you have to put a couple of things in perspective.
He insisted that he still has a working relationship with Lerner and the backing of the owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns franchise.
“I heard that I had a fight with Randy on Tuesday. He was with his daughter on Tuesday afternoon and he was the first one to call me," said O’Neill.
“He was quite surprised to hear that I had left the club. He wanted to know who had given the go-ahead!
“He’s delighted with the season. I think, however, he can speak for himself. Even when the rumors started circulating he said 'Shall I say something?' He had heard about it from our chief executive Paul Faulkner.
“Certainly this season there has been very little to be disappointed with. We are still trying to qualify for Europe for the third time on the trot which is what he said to me.’
Whether O’Neill remains will depend heavily on whether Lerner is prepared to invest further, which could involve shelving plans for major re-development at Villa Park.
O’Neill knows it will take further serious funds to bridge that gap to Champions League places and improved corporate facilities, banqueting and seating at Villa Park will not help.
“He has some plans to go and improve Villa Park which might cost a fair amount of money. He’s still enthused by it. I’ll sit down with him at the end of the season and see where we are placed.
“We will see. The judgements will be in terms of the team, in terms of everything to see where we go.
“When I speak to him, I’ll find out about investment. Let’s get a couple of points clear. I’m responsible for the running of this football club, certainly what happens on the field of play which is really what a football club is all about.’
Whether he will be holding that responsibility for the start of the new season remains to be seen.