Arsenal

Going, Going… Gone?

Where's the love? O'Neill could be on his way out of Villa Park.

Martin O’Neill looks set to leave Aston Villa at the end of the season, with Mark Hughes being lined up as his potential replacement, according to the News of the World.

O’Neill is worried about the cost-cutting measures set to be imposed by Randy Lerner this summer, and fears he may have taken Aston Villa as far as he can. Further, O’Neill is disappointed with the lack of support he and his players have at times received this season.

O’Neill has a rolling one-year contract at Villa Park, but is not expected to renew his contract with the club in the summer. Lerner, who has invested some £179m of his own money into Aston Villa, is known to be worried by the global economic recession and is reluctant to invest heavily in the club again this summer.

O’Neill has spent close to £20m a season at Aston Villa since 2006, and whilst the club has been upwardly mobile during that time, O’Neill is conscious that a lack of further investment hamper Villa’s pursuit of a Champions League berth.

O’Neill has recruited expensively at Villa Park, and yet players such as James Milner and Ashley Young would represent a huge resale margin. With Villa posting record losses of more than £43million last year, Lerner may wish to sell one or two of his starlets in a bid to balance the books. O’Neill told the News of the World:

“Two years ago, if you’d said any Premier League side could find itself in a heap of financial trouble then I wouldn’t have believed it.

“I think that the signs are out there and I think they have to be heeded.

“But if he (Lerner) ever felt the need to then he’d certainly double his money on two or three of the players here at the football club if that was the case.”

Whilst Milner (£12m) and Young (£9.75m) were expensive acquisitions, they are both worth double that figure today, and are known to be coveted by top clubs across Europe.

O’Neill’s reign as manager has come under scrutiny from the fans and press alike ever since the back end of last season. Villa appeared destined for Champions League football, spending most of the season in the top four. However, after beating Blackburn Rovers away in the League on 7 February 2009, Villa went on to win just two more league games all season, eventually finishing in sixth place.

This season, the club still has a chance of Champions League qualification, and O’Neill led Villa to the latter stages of both domestic up competitions. However, the fans at Villa Park have intermittently expressed their disquiet vocally, and O’Neill understandably feels under appreciated. Further, Lerner is rumoured to be considering appointing a Director of Football, which is a damning indictment of O’Neill’s dealings in the transfer market, despite the fact that six of O’Neill’s signings at Villa Park have gone on to make the England squad.

If O’Neill leaves the club this summer, there will be no shortage of potential suitors for the former Leicester City and Celtic manager. O’Neill has long been linked with the England job, as well as being identified as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. However, with these jobs unlikely to become available anytime soon, Liverpool could be a more realistic target for O’Neill. Rafael Benitez would probably have been handed his P45 long ago were it not for the fact that the club cannot afford to pay his severance package. However, if Liverpool can find a buyer, the new owners may wish to select a new manager, with O’Neill a likely candidate.

Despite the rumours permeating the press apropos O’Neill’s future, Villa could still reach the promised land of the Champions League this term. Whilst Villa are six points behind Tottenham and four behind Manchester City, with four games remaining for the three teams, on paper, Villa have the easiest run-in. O’Neill’s future in the Midlands looks precarious to say the least at present, but if O’Neill takes the club into the Champions League, few would bet against the Northern Irishman remaining at Villa Park for at least another season. However, if O’Neill is going to stay at Villa Park, then it’s time that Randy Lerner and the supporters made O’Neill feel the love…

You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mark0turner

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