On the 15th of October 1973, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor tendered their resignation to the Derby County Board of Directors – who, in an unprecedented move, accepted their departure rather than bow to the demands of 2 of the most astute managers in world football. Today, Martin O’Neill left Aston Villa Football Club after seemingly reaching the end of his tether with the increasing chains of the powers-that-be. Today, the sleeping giant that is Aston Villa has now surely slipped into a deep, deep coma – and will never be woken.
As I was writing a new blog post on my season predictions, I explained,
“When I look at the personnel and depth of the 7 other teams in the Premier League top 8, and when I consider some of their spending power and growth, I see no reason why Aston Villa shouldn’t finish 8th this coming season. However, when I see images of Bodymoor Heath training, when I look at the excitement of some of our top-class players, when I hear O’Neill speak and when I consider his vision, I have every confidence that we will once again be in the shake-up come May…”
Unfortunately, as I was writing a new blog post on my season predictions, I read,
“It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club…”
And at once, I had to stop writing. At once, the overly-optimistic Villain in me had been crushed, my rose tinted glasses shattered, and all at once, I could see only rubble before me on the plains of the 2010/11 season.
Romanticists are urging us to look at the positives, but some things in life just aren’t that simple, are they? Yes, I’ve criticised some of our players, I’ve overanalyzed some of our policies, and I beg for a sense of realism, but readers of this blog will know that, deep down, I am nothing more than a hopelessly hopeful Villa-addict. I will, when others won’t; I cheer when others frown; I believe when others doubt – but on the 9th of August 2010, this supporter fell from grace, cracked his head, and begrudgingly remembered that he is an Aston Villa fan; and with that, comes great misery.
Is it really that bad?
You bet. Because as I was riding high on the MON Express (I didn’t realise how high until now), I had forgotten the sickening feeling of having to turn off Match of the Day on a Saturday evening. I had blanked out all those cruel years of midtable apathy and I had elapsed the memory of when we were looking to Darius Vassell for goals, to Joey Gudjonsson for inspiration, to Alpay Ozalan for heart.
And now, regrettably, I see no way forward. I fear that Aston Villa will never be blessed with a manager of the calibre of Martin O’Neill again. The club has lost its entire pull-factor. James Milner is a goner; will we be so surprised to see Ashley Young follow him out the doorstep? Is a MONless AVFC appealing enough to attract the likes of Stephen Ireland (a player who we were on the brink of welcoming) or Robbie Keane? His achievements aside, the name alone of Martin O’Neill was working wonders for our club – and I can’t see any possible candidates having big enough metaphorical feet to fill his giant shoes.
In a way, the Ulster man has left us high and dry. 5 days before the new season begins, 22 days before the transfer window closes, we are managerless and still to make our first signing. But in another way, I don’t blame him. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if a board is going to hire a manager to oversee team affairs, they should put complete faith in that manager and his policies and allow him to shape his vision how he wants, with zero interference. If they feel that they cannot trust the man they have appointed and the directors feel that they know best, he shouldn’t be there in the first place – otherwise, let it be and give him a fair crack at the whip. And up until the past few months, I thought this mutual respect and communication was what we had at Aston Villa – and so did O’Neill. But how could MON take this club forward if we are constantly selling our best players? How could he take us anywhere if he isn’t being allowed to spend even the money that he raises himself? What would be the point in remaining with a project devoid of ambition, expecting failure?
The FA rejected MON’s application for the national job because he wanted to make sure that he had complete control of all team and academy matters (like it should be). (Similar unnecessary power-trips was why England missed out on having Brian Clough in charge all those years ago) Instead, the country was treated to the appointment of Steve McClaren who did his utmost to bring shame and disrepute to the 3 Lions crest. I say, “Back the manager; or sack the manager”… worryingly, our chairman chose the wrong option.
Yes, I am a massive O’Neill supporter (although I can’t see any reason why everyone isn’t), but I do not want to become like that infamous blog which spouts out nothing but uninterested, uninspiring, pessimistic garbage each week about all-things-Villa. I’m an AVFC supporter first and foremost who simply recognised that MON was one of the best things in a long, long time that ever happened to this club – and I will back his successor (granted it’s not David O’Leary). I’m just having difficulty seeing how these clouds can be moved from Villa Park. I’m having difficulty considering life after O’Neill.
Martin gave us 4 spectacular years (I’ve discussed this in-depth in previous posts), and I, for one, am extremely thankful. Some say he was just there for the money (although he admirably walked out on his contract for footballing reasons); others say he had taken us as far as he could (even if he had, which he hadn’t, he had already taken us quite a distance). But O’Neill had us believing again – he had us hoping. And in the face of our 6 year despair, we couldn’t ask for any more.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, I don’t believe in fate. I maintain that we are placed in situations, faced with opportunities and we need to make the most of them, we have to try and make the right decision.
The term “Messiah” refers to the redeemer figure, the leader, the saviour – the one who will show His people the way. I can’t help but think that after dragging us from the dark ages, after prophesising greatness for this club, after restoring pride in our people, that Martin O’Neill was The Chosen One. And I dread to accept that we turned our back on his teachings, that we rejected his way, and that we, Aston Villa, banished The Messiah.