Belfast Telegraph

Aston Villa's show will go on without Martin O’Neill

By Mark McIntosh

Martin O’Neill may never have dandered down the cobbles of Coronation Street or bought a drink at the Queen Vic in Eastenders — but when it comes to a soap opera, there are few better in football

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When he walked out on Aston Villa yesterday, he did so when the time was right, for him, and him alone.

It seems every summer became memorable for the Martin O’Neill Show instead of the focus being solely on the club.

He played hard-ball with Liverpool back in 2008 when they refused to stump up £18 million for Gareth Barry but in turn, made sure that there was no way the England midfielder would stay at the club beyond that contract.

Last summer he was forced to accept a lot less for his former skipper but at least the most boring transfer saga in recent years was at an end. Fast forward 12 months and you couldn’t keep O’Neill out of the limelight.

James Milner was the new saga, same story, different player. To O’Neill’s credit, he was only trying to squeeze as much money out of mega-rich Manchester City as possible but you can’t help feeling the publicity was cleverly constructed to suit O’Neill more than his employers.

So why? It’s no secret his working relationship with Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner was strained to say the least. O’Neill, or No Deals as he was known, wanted more money to buy Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Scott Parker but his chairman failed to deliver.

In his four years at the helm the former Celtic boss has brought Holte End favourites John Carew, Ashley Young and Milner to the club and his foresight to polish the latter two diamonds has to be applauded.

So isn’t it ironic that both players could have been instrumental in his eventual departure? Milner’s on-going ‘imminent’ departure to Eastlands may have been the final straw. Or was it Tottenham’s interest in Young becoming too good to turn down by the powers that be over his head?

Either way, the full details will finally come out and Villa fans will know why the man who raised hopes and expectations walked away after his most successful year in charge.

O’Neill deserves immense credit for turning around the fortunes of a club in decline but the secretive manner of his departure is leaving a bad taste.

This is the Martin O’Neill Show, though, and the soap opera is more than likely to continue wherever he pops up next.

The big question is, will Villa and Lerner be better off at the end of the season? Time will tell.

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