In late September of this year you would be forgiven for thinking that Nigel Reo-Coker would soon be on his way out of Villa Park and heading for pastures new. However this weekend Martin O’Neill shocked Premier League fans across the country by handing the controversial Villa midfielder the captain’s armband for their home fixture against Bolton Wanderers.
Reo-Coker was involved in a training ground bust-up with manager O’Neill on September 18th. The exact events of the row are disputed however there was believed to be some sort of physical element involved which resulted in Reo-Coker being dropped for the following game with Portsmouth.
It is no surprise that many eyebrows were raised after O’Neill decided to not only start Reo-Coker, but to make him team captain. However the more and more I think about this, the more and more I believe it to be an inspired stroke of master-class from the experienced Irish manager.
Villa were missing regular captain Stilyan Petrov through suspension and were therefore in need of a captain for the weekend, with no real obvious candidate emerging from the Villa side since Gareth Barry’s summer departure to Man City, O’Neill opted for Reo-Coker. O’Neill would have known that upon his return Petrov would reclaim the armband and therefore saw this as an opportunity of a show of confidence in both Reo-Coker’s abilities and his position within the squad.
The Villa manager has been quoted as saying he is ‘too old to bear grudges’ and clearly felt that this saga needed to be ended for the benefit of the team. O’Neill has not only shown his professionalism through this episode but also his experience as a top-flight manager. A less-experienced coach may not have realised the advantages of such a rash move and would have not reaped the rewards that O’Neill has. Reo-Coker was not just thrown into the fray after an absence from the squad, O’ Neill had built up to his weekends start by giving him a series of substitute appearances, showing the Englishman that he still has a place of importance within the Villa squad.
Before the match against Gary Megson’s side Villa had been without a win in the league since mid-October’s victory over title challengers Chelsea, drawing away to Everton and Wolves and gifting West Ham their first home win of the season. However they dismantled a Bolton side who defended woefully and it could have easily been a higher score line than the 5-1 that it finished. Although Reo-Coker was not on the score sheet he led his side to a convincing team victory, suggesting that the harmony within the camp is much better than some may think.
If Nigel Reo-Coker is going to play any kind of role in Aston Villa’s quest to break the top four then he needs to be able to put this training ground saga behind him. I believe handing him the captaincy as a one-off was one of the best ways that O’Neill could help the pair achieve this. The manager has come out on several occasions and claimed these events are over but his claims have sometimes fallen on deaf ears. In light of the weekends events it is unlikely that many people will question that there is still a rift between the Villa midfielder and O’Neill, it seems that the club have finally been able to draw a line under the incident.