Soon enough, it will be six years since Martin O’Neill walked out on Aston Villa just days before the 2010 season kicked off. That means six years since Aston Villa began their slide into the Football League.
After adopting a ‘sell-to-buy’ policy (which may have worked, if utilised properly), the relationship between Villa owner Randy Lerner and O’Neill slowly deteriorated. In the spring of 2010, Lerner advised Villa supporters that O’Neill had pledged his future to the football club, but a summer-long transfer battle with Manchester City over Villa’s relative superstar, James Milner, had been the final nail in that strained coffin. Villa finally agreed to a £18 million plus Stephen Ireland deal, but O’Neill had already left, frustrated with the percentage of the Milner money that was afforded to him. Unable to replace Villa’s stars, he handed in his notice. Martin O’Neill would not be one to let his career be defined by another’s lack of ambition, but it probably would end up so.
Almost six years later, Villa fans are still waiting for the follow up.
I consider it a blessing to have witnessed O’Neill’s high-flying Villa in the flesh. The Stoke before Stoke, the Everton before Everton and what could possibly have been the Leicester before Leicester. Villa’s late 2000’s squad was a united team that achieved far more than their individual talent would allow you to believe, however that individual talent was enough for other, bigger clubs to take notice. The sharks could smell the blood in the water the second that Martin O’Neill gave up on the Europa League in 2009, a tournament which Villa could have won. Villa gave up on one of their best chances of a trophy and failed to break into the top four. Gareth Barry would leave that summer, James Milner the year after, with Ashley Young and Stewart Downing following. Aston Villa were left with pretty much nothing to work with going forward.
You would have thought the philosophical Gerard Houllier, the stalwart Alex McLeish or the talent of Paul Lambert may be able to replicate the almost divine model of O’Neill’s Villa. You’d have been wrong.
With the loss of O’Neill, Villa changed in more ways than one. Wage budgets were cut, transfers were reigned in and it seemed that the manager was no longer the boss. Paul Lambert’s damning confessions of late in which he discusses transfer targets such as Romelu Lukaku and Wilfried Bony and the manner in which they were shot down is heart attack material for Villa’s fans.
Even then, investing wasn’t the biggest issue. It was Lerner’s lack of optimism, his admission of defeat, his apathy. That’s why the simple protest of ‘don’t go’ won’t work – because it shows apathy, not anger.
No-one expected new manager Remi Garde to be provided with a warchest this winter, but the fact he wasn’t afforded a token signing is almost damning. Overspending is bad, but not reinforcing the best manager Villa have had in years is horrendous.
Villa’s board might yet turn around and save the day, but recent history shows that they are more interested in cutting their losses than going forward.
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