The likeable former Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland star’s managerial success at Leicester and Celtic shows he knows how to get the most out of his players. Can he now lift Villa among the Premiership elite?
Brought up in the game under mastermind and mad-genius Brian Clough, Martin has achieved much at the clubs he has managed but is still very short of the kind of success at the top level that could even bring him close to his self-confessed managerial mentor. At Leicester and Wycombe, he took two sides and performed miracles – helping them to score successes that led them punching far above their weight.
There is no doubt that taking a comparatively small club like Leicester to the Premiership is a huge achievement, as is leading them to two League Cup successes. However, these successes are only comparative to the size of clubs in question.
Oâ€™Neill then moved up to the huge job at Celtic, where again he had great success Five years at Parkhead yielded three SPL titles and a UEFA Cup Final place. Now, after a year at the helm of proverbial â€˜sleeping-giantsâ€™ Aston Villa, you can again see that he has started well. Following a good end-of-season run, he led his side to a comfortable 11th place. But does he have what it takes to bring Aston Villa anywhere near their early ’80s pinnacle? Or is this just a distant dream that no-one could hope to replicate in this current Premiership era?
I like that Martin speaks his mind and that in doing so, he is not afraid to be ridiculed. He has in fact become a favourite of many as much for his candour as his footballing success, which has been plentiful if not earth-shattering.
He undoubtedly has the ability to get the most out of his players – he’s the kind of character who can raise players above themselves and help to gel a team of average players into a unit that moves up an extra notch. However, is he the kind of manager that top-quality players want to play for?
O’Neill doesnâ€™t exactly preach â€˜attractiveâ€™ football. He is by no means a Graham Taylor or, even worse, a John Beck – but he is also not an Arsene Wenger (not that this is a good or bad thing). But he does have an eye for spotting talent and the signings of Ashley Young and Shaun Maloney could prove very good business. The capture of Marlon Harewood and Nigel Reo-Coker also shows that under Oâ€™Neill, Villa are definitely heading upwards.
Whether he is also the type of manager to attract world-class talent is questionable – but at this stage it may not relevant. Maybe Oâ€™Neill is the perfect manager for Villa’s needs right now; someone to dig in, someone to turn the ship around. But the question is whether he can in three or four years take the Midlands outfit into a prolonged attack in Europe (and not through the Intertoto route) or even a shot at the top four, something Brian Little amazingly managed back in 1995-96.
Oâ€™Neill himself may see Villa as a managerial stepping stone. He has after all been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs in the past, so perhaps his role at Villa Park suits him for the time being.
His appointment and steady success has given hope to Villa fans and along with the investment by Randy Lerner, this hope has some basis in reality. Indeed, it could help wake the sleeping giant of the Midlands from his extended slumber.