Writer: J P Fear
Date:Monday August 13 2007
Up until quite recently I was prepared to give Martin O'Neill at least a couple of seasons to prove himself at Villa. The man had a plan and it seemed childish to cut his legs off before seeing how that plan developed, but recent events have I believe have moved the goal posts. Direct comparisons with our nearest rivals are inevitable and none more so than with Sven-Goran Eriksson.
The Swede's extraordinary spending spree since he became manager sort of makes O'Neill's 5-yr plan seem a little idealistic to put it mildly. The speed of Eriksson's transformation at City has been breathtaking - and this from a man who seemed to lack any imagination or audacity whilst in charge of England. This stands in direct contrast to Martin's let us say, more leisurely, measured pace. In fact MON has shown all the urgency of a glacier. Both men have put their ass on the line this season for the opposite of reasons - one manager has spent a fortune, the other has refused to spend one. Martin O'Neill's reluctance not to get involved in a bidding war is one thing, but his apparent reluctance to get involved in any sort of confrontation with another club frankly smacks of timidly.
Apparently Sven hadn't even seen some of his signings play before they turned up in Manchester, on the face of it his recruitment-by-video policy looks suicidal - how does he expect them to play as a team so quickly? to acclimatise to the Premier League? to communicate with each other? Maybe he is playing the percentages, out of the nine or ten signings he's made maybe he'll get a couple of great players, three or four reasonable ones and this will be enough to make City into a decent side. From what we saw on Saturday against Wham he may well have more than a couple of great players, I didn't see a single dud. It might all go pear-shaped for him as the season progresses (here's hoping!) but imagine if it doesn't.
Just imagine if Man City has a great season and finish above Villa next May. Eriksson will have effectively turned around a club and put together a whole new team in a matter of weeks. The consequences for MON will be clear. O'Neill's precious 5-yr plan will be rendered meaningless if Eriksson can propel City into Europe this season. And if he achieves this at the expense of Aston Villa, well, this must surely mean Martin O'Neill's resignation or sacking.
Of course we will be able to make comparisons with others such as Sam Alladyce (Newcastle) and Alan Curbishley (West Ham), both of whom have been in their jobs for shorter periods than Martin. No excuses now of time or money or opportunity. No excuses of any kind. Never before in his managerial career will MON have been subject to this kind of intense direct head-to-head competition. I'm afraid in my opinion he has already committed one sackable offence in going into the new season without an adequate defence - even if he buys a couple of players this week it takes time and preparation for defenders and goalkeeper to start working as an effective unit, by the time this happens it may already be too late, we'll be chasing the pack and losing confidence (which according to MON we have lost already).
It's certainly going to be an exciting and very revealing season. A make or break season for a number of managers - and sorry Mart, your 5-yr plan will count for nothing if Svennis kicks your butt - you only have nine months and the countdown has already started.
Date:Monday August 13 2007
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