Last Monday evening Skybet's odds on the first Premier League manager to lose their job shifted. In an unexplained twist Martin O'Neill had resigned from his post and the club had accepted, and suddenly Villa's season was in total jeopardy. It is still far too early, especially in light of the complete lack of official explanation, to judge O'Neill's motives for leaving yet, as ever, the truth is on the pitch. Against West Ham United the Aston Villa players gave a clear demonstration that O'Neill had started to become a negative influence on the club.
Many new managers have enjoyed false dawns, and I am not suggesting that Kevin McDonald has suddenly become the ideal candidate for the job, but the manner of Villa's performance; the freedom and potential displayed, the pass-and-move football and above all enjoyment was a welcome tonic for any supporter. In truth this Villa side had rarely played attractive football under the previous manager, especially in home games. Spirited, dogged and counter-attacking, but not stylish, O'Neill's side consistently exasperated fans at Villa Park for the last two seasons.
As with most successful managers, O'Neill had a carefully cultivated public persona which should not influence any balanced assessment of his reign. Unfortunately the English media are unable to look past this persona, as anyone who sits through the following clip from the Sunday Supplement will surely testify - http://www.skysports.com/video/clips/0,23791,13989,00.html. In various ways the three journalists; Hayward, Holt and Robinson, repeatedly imply that Martin O'Neill is bigger than Aston Villa, and draw on the Clough stereotype to back up their opinions. O'Neill has not and will not follow in Clough's hallowed footsteps, and the outright disrespect he has shown by walking out five days before a new season has probably reduced his chances to do so elsewhere.
On a slightly separate note, Oliver Holt 'doesn't set any stall by what some bloke with General or Colonel in front of his name's got to say' (Holt had previously called General Charles Krulak 'Colonel Tom'). I invite any reader to look at Krulak's personal record of service (in Vietnam and Desert Storm) and try to defend the disgraceful words of this arrogant and ignorant excuse for a journalist.
Regardless of the short term causes for O'Neill's shock departure, the truth is that his relationship with the club had displayed frayed emotions for some time. Previously a messiah for Villa supporters, a growing faction became frustrated with his apparent inflexibility, though it must be said that many still retained confidence in O'Neill. This frustration occasionally poisoned the atmosphere, not altogether unreasonably, at Villa Park, to which O'Neill responded by subtly castigating the supporters. A number of reports also suggest that Villa's discreet chairman, Randy Lerner, was unwilling to match previous levels of financial support his manager.
The outcome of these uncertain but by no means hopeless circumstances is most poignant when one recalls the scenes which O'Neill's arrival at Midlands club heralded. For the first two and a half seasons progress was rapid, the stadium was full and good news emanated out of the club. However the fact that I, like many supporters, increasingly approached Saturdays with a feeling of dread rather than excitement tells its own story. Once O'Neill's initial impact subsided, he was increasingly exposed tactically and in his management of the club, and now his Villa legacy is another false dawn.