Why O'Neill needs a really big season at Villa Park
Pressure. It comes with the territory of being a football manager. Having been in charge of Celtic for five years Martin O’Neill is well used to expectation weighing down on him.
Heightening that pressure through his own actions now brings fresh problems for the Kilrea man.
Graham Taylor led Aston Villa to second place in the league in 1990 - the highest finish they have recorded in 28 years - before leaving to take over as England manager. And he believes that O’Neill will have to go some way to emulating that success this season, or face questions being asked.
Last season Villa were in the hunt to barge their way into what has become something of an elite group in the top four places in the Premier League.
O’Neill put all his eggs in one basket in the spring, leaving almost all of his big boys at home, fielding what amounted to little more than a reserve team against CSKA Moscow in a UEFA Cup game.
That match ended in defeat and the quest to reach the Champions League failed as well - eventually coming home in sixth place - resulting in new pressure for O’Neill, according to Taylor.
“I know Martin very well, I go right back to the Brian Clough days as a player and Martin manages his own way,” said Taylor, who was in the province recently to launch the Irish FA’s Co-operative Insurance Football Development Centres.
“You can see the effects of being a player under Brian Clough.
“As far as he is concerned - we have seen recently he has had a difference of opinion with Nigel Reo-Coker - Martin is the boss.
“I think this year after four years people will see that it is Martin’s team.
“He had a problem last year when he made the decision to take a weakened side away to play the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie in Moscow, and because of that he needs to have a good season this season or one or two people are going to lose a bit of faith.”
Villa are currently seventh in the Premier League, but a win at home to Chelsea tomorrow could propel them into the top four - if other results go their way.
Randy Lerner’s investment in Villa hasn’t quite matched the levels of Manchester City’s £100 million summer spree, but he has pumped a lot of money in since employing O’Neill in 2006, and Taylor believes there has been a level of success achieved.
“I think he has done extremely well and Martin is a clever and shrewd man,” said Taylor.
“I would think Villa will be knocking on that door for the top six again, whether they will make the top four I’m not certain.
“With Manchester City coming in and spending big it’s more difficult to put pressure on the top four.”
Taylor made his name when he guided unfashionable Watford from what was then the Fourth Division to the top flight of English football in the space of five seasons. He capped that by finishing second behind Liverpool in the early 1980s as well as reaching the FA Cup final.
Carnlough man Brendan Rodgers had seven months in charge at Vicarage Road last season before taking the top job at Reading during the summer, the club where he played and had nine years in charge of the academy before four years at Chelsea, working under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.
Although he still has a lot to prove, Taylor is expecting Rodgers to be every bit as successful as O’Neill.
“Brendan Rodgers was very good for Watford,” said Taylor.
“He had to move and I don’t think he would have moved anywhere but Reading, where he started off. Brendan will do alright, he, like a lot of young managers, has an intensity and a strong desire to succeed.
“Without that you aren’t going to. It doesn't matter how clever you are unless you have the intensity, the enthusiasm and desire to be good, then you’re not going to be - and he has that.”
It is now six years since Taylor left Villa after a second spell in charge at the club. It was a decision made in light of the changing face of football at the time - and given the changes that have occurred since it was one he got right.
“I chose to come out of management at Aston VIlla because I didn’t like the way that I thought the game was heading,” he said.
“At that time Aston Villa was a plc and I’m not a big fan of football clubs being plcs.
“More than that I could see a change with foreign owners coming in whereby the manager was having less and less of a say, and I come from the era where the manager had the final say on football matters. I saw that changing, so rather than get the sack I chose to come out.”
If Lawrie Sanchez thought he got things tough when he was in charge of Northern Ireland he really should have a word with Taylor.
First his face was depicted on a turnip after his England side crashed out of Euro 92 and a few months later he was an onion after losing a friendly to Spain.
Ultimately Ronald Koeman was his nemesis. The Dutch defender should have been sent off in a World Cup qualifier in October 1993, but stayed on the pitch and scored the goal that put paid to England’s hopes of making the following year’s World Cup.
“I think on reflection, while I was ambitious enough to want to be England manager - and you don’t get that job unless you are successful at club level and I’d had success at club level - the first brick wall for me, the first failure, was non-qualification for the 1994 World Cup,” said Taylor.
“I didn’t know what it was like and I expected to be successful as England manager because I’d never been any different. It might have been better to follow the adage that the England manager’s job shouldn’t be your next job it should be your last one.”