There can be no doubting the job Martin O’Neill has done at Aston Villa but the problem, if it can be called that, in being in charge at one of the biggest clubs in the Premiership is that filling the trophy cabinet will be expected at some stage. I believe O’Neill’s credentials as a manager are in the middle- there’s not enough evidence to suggest that he is a truly great manager but to say he is a poor manager is going overboard. Having been at Villa for four years, the first whisperings of O’Neill’s future have started appearing and the football side of the matters is becoming frequently questioned.
Could it be that the pressure on him to deliver silverware, along with attempting to finish fourth is now getting too much for O’Neill? He is usually a very honest manager in whichever club he has managed and that hasn’t changed with the comments he made when the rumours first appeared about him tendering his resignation. He said: “The buck stops with me. It is my responsibility; it is as simple as that. Whatever you say about performances and it is all very well talking about the players, that is down to me and that is my responsibility.” I see a worrying trend in Aston Villa that O’Neill must surely be wondering himself. This season, and the previous campaign, have suggested that Villa are real contenders for Champions League qualification yet on both occasions they have drifted away towards the business end of the season. The Northern Irishman seems at a loss to discover why Villa – starved of success for a long time – look unlikely to finish fourth when many pundits and even neutrals had them down as favourites.
Something that I didn’t think would be associated with O’Neill is the lack of altering in the tactical side of the game and I think this is where he is found wanting. The players at his disposal are of good quality in each position yet his use of the squad (the depth is questionable), the substitutions and the balance of the team are areas in which O’Neill has made some wrong decisions which has inevitably led to some inconsistency from his team. Villa’s squad is small and that needs addressing because the players he does play have become tired and ineffective. The point of subs is to make an impact on the game but I struggle to see what players can change the game for them if all their star players are giving their efforts in vain. Sure, you start the match with your best players but every team needs to have someone to come off the bench and change the game.
Villa are predictable and O’Neill’s tried and trusted way of playing looks too rigid. Hoping to catch teams on the counter-attack and enjoy the freedom in playing away from home is now commonly associated with the team. Unfortunately, due to the fact that he can’t change much, these are highlighted as the flaws in his managerial style. I suspect that O’Neill is looking for more money to build on the squad. After all, the reports about him resigning were said to have appeared because there have apparently been talks between O’Neill and Randy Lerner about the club’s transfer budget for next season. Even if he was allowed more money than recruiting players would represent a shift in Villa’s style of playing, their use of a target man and would result in more expectations.
It seems the outsiders look at Villa and admire them, and they are a decent team as some of their results – a notable victory at Old Trafford – have shown. However, the fans have shown that they certainly expect more as there have been recent signs of discontentment, with supporters at Villa Park getting on the back of O’Neill. It just shows the demanding nature of football these days but O’Neill would have expected it- how he handles it and takes the team forward is the issue. I don’t know if O’Neill is the type of person to take the easy way out but his inquiry about funds, along with him going on record to say that he will review his own position this summer, sounds like someone who may be thinking how far he can take this team. He has transformed the club since his arrival but surely there comes a stage when he has to take them to that next level?
Whether or not Martin O’Neill leaves Villa this summer, I think that one thing he has to consider is where he is taking the team. Is he slowing down the progress that Villa are on course to make? This weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea is a crucial game now and the final games of this season should be interesting to determine the motivation and morale of the side should they lose on Saturday. Naturally the status of Villa brings added pressures to O’Neill but he is a manager that looks like he has limitations at the moment. Changing the manager would be unwise (whilst resignation is an altogether different matter) but O’Neill must reassess and make sure he doesn’t ruin the good work.
You can follow me on www.twitter.com/prashster