Of course, I’m still deeply saddened by O’Neill’s departure; I’m frustrated and confused at my sudden change of opinion of our once beloved American owners; but I’m more disappointed at the careless (and convenient) inaccuracies being spouted about the media in an attempt to brandish our former (oh! That hurt) manager as a childish villain (and not the claret kind).
Yes, I make no secret of my obsession for the Northern Ireland legend – but I haven’t held O’Neill on a high pedestal for so long on a random whim. I’ve studied his performance, I’ve admired his achievements, and I began to respect his every word. And so, when I see a certain Mr Gray sitting behind his Sky Sports News desk criticising MON and kidding himself that his Google stat search is ample support, I’m more disappointed than surprised. I’m in no way surprised at Andy’s erroneous laziness (why should I expect a top television pundit to conduct a bit of valid research?), but I’m disappointed that some of us lay people have bought in to his tripe.
Mr Lerner has indeed been a great owner and had every right to tighten his purse strings for one transfer window (I’ve said this before), but when Gray attempts to vaguely explain that O’Neill has spent “something like” £120m of the American’s money, he led a lot of fans down a deceitful blind alley where unwarranted questions were raised as to how MON has been so immune to criticism (even if £120m was spent, this sum is still miniscule when compared to the lavishness of our closest competitors Spurs and Citeh). Martin O’Neill did indeed record an outgoing expenditure £123.85m for the club (if Gray is wondering), but after the sale of Nicky Shorey, the Ulster man is responsible for a NET spend of just £81.2m throughout his 4 years in charge. That’s merely £20m a year to bring a club in dire straits from 16th place to become top 4 challengers in today’s impossibly difficult money-mad football world.
Additionally, even if MON had spent enormous chunks (as being exaggerated by supporters from other clubs, and within our own unfortunately), he was still told by his employer that he would be allowed access to any money he raised through the sale of players – but now, all of a sudden, he isn’t granted such ‘privileges’. As the board, you cannot lie to your manager who is considering a new contract, and you certainly cannot fill his head with empty promises as he looks to discover how he can take his team forward.
On the 14th May 2010, Randy Lerner claimed that Champions League qualification was the aim for the season ahead, (http://www.goal.com/en/news/9/england/2010/05/14/1924753/aston-villa-owner-randy-lerner-we-are-aiming-for-the ), yet he expected his manager to perform such miracles within the limitations of a sell-to-buy policy. But O’Neill accepted the challenge and obliged – he knew that he would lose his best player for a second consecutive season, but he was unshaken. But less than 3 months later, MON was pushed over the edge – and we learned that something even more constraining than what was originally made public had been concealed from the former Forest player all along. And Martin O’Neill resigned. 12 weeks after putting pen to paper on a new contract.
Evidently, the timing of his departure is devastating. And maybe O’Neill wasn’t entirely thinking of the (overly critical) fans when he decided that he could not take the team any farther with his hands so tightly tied. But when he is not being allowed to shape his vision, how can he be the right man for the job? I suppose he came to this conclusion.
“But the timing of the decision is a strange one…” but do you know what Mr Gray? Something tells me that this was not actually planned – but hey, maybe that’s just me. On a serious note, I’m sure than MON had no desire to walk out on his 4 year progress; to abandon ship immediately after it had reached new depths; to neglect the nurturing of such talent as Gabby, Albrighton, Delfouneso and Delph; to sell off an unfinished business. Or maybe, after all, he did plan to take the team through preseason, prepare us for a do-or-die year and then turn his back 5 days before the big kick off…
Gray goes on to compare the Villa situation to Manchester United’s loss of Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, he is irreplaceable and Fergie was not given the full £80m transfer fee to spend how he likes – however, Sir Alex was aware of this in advance (unlike O’Neill), he had the ability to still acquire the costly likes of Valencia, Obertan and Owen (unlike O’Neill), and he was in a position where he still had the vast, vast majority of players from the three times Premier League champions, not to mention their very recent Champions League exploits (similar to Villa?). It was also suggested that Harry Redknapp is being hard done by because he still hasn’t signed anyone ‘yet’. But a glance at his Portsmouth and Spurs debt, and the realisation that Tottenham will spend this summer, deems consideration of this argument very unnecessary.
Before I conclude my defence of Martin O’Neill (hopefully for the last time, because I want to give our incoming supremo every chance and my 100% support), I should also probably mention on a side note that had we acquired Stephen Ireland plus the reported £19m (which isn’t for spending) for James Milner, our NET expenditure would have had an even healthier face (for those who were so quick to look at the outgoing costs of the club). We should probably also be fair and consider the increased revenue of the club over the past 4 years, through gate receipts, European qualification, and of course, extended cup runs and TV rights. And why not throw in the fact that Villa distribute just the 7th highest wage bills in the league each year?
Hopefully the next time another famous voice attempts to take an uneducated swipe at O’Neill for “throwing his toys out of the pram”, they will firstly have a look at the difficulties which faced him in simply keeping us standing still in this crazy 21st century football business. Even more hopefully, Andy Gray will realise the errors of his judgements.
To quote my favourite, Brian Clough, “There’s a good lad…”