Date: 13th August 2010 at 12:32pm
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Obediah says O`Neill has been Reading the Runes.

Living a couple of hundred miles away from the seat of the action and having what are now becoming ‘ancient bones`, I have little opportunity to get into face to face discussions with others in such hallowed watering holes as The Holte. As a result I have to resort to careful, selective reading of the more responsible journalists and web-sites offering views and opinions about my beloved Aston Villa.

We all know Martin O`Neill plays his cards very close to his chest and that he is a past master of speaking volumes without saying very much. Probably this is due to his innate intelligence and training in the Law, his past dealings with the media and, of course, his Irish ancestry. But, to me one thing was plain, in the last six months or so his utterances became more guarded and the underlying tone of what he was saying became more difficult to read. It was as if he wanted to stay “On Message” for the Club, but also imply something else as well.

Coupled with that, again, predominantly this year, there seemed to have been an increase in the number of times that a few select senior professionals at the club, started talking up MON`s performance and offering him support. Why did this suddenly become so necessary? Alongside that and almost hidden in the general detritus that local journalist write to fill column inches was an implication that all was not well among the majority of squad members. Yes there was the issue with NRC, but it was more than that; much more, but always by implication rather than being clearly expressed. In addition, there seemed to be a growing pettiness about some of MON`s behaviour and in his attitude towards any of the players who had the courage to question MON`s views, opinions, tactics or team selection. This spitefulness ill becomes someone of O`Neill`s status, who was, for over three years, almost a dictator at Villa Park.

Mon`s insistence on continuing to play his favourites, even when they were out of form and/or continually playing them out of position, to the detriment of the team as a whole was palpable, particularly when there were players of international standard warming the bench. Surely, the 12-14 players who were consistently allowed onto the pitch are not that much better than any of the other players in the squad? If they are, then why did he spend so much money on the also-rans in the first place? And why, when they did have an opportunity to get onto the field were the `also-rans` usually marked quite highly by the various critics in the post game analysis? In a phrase it became obvious that O`Neill ‘played his favourites` which is not a good way to manage a team or any business for that matter.

This issue raises serious questions about MON`s ability to select and buy players for the club and, probably more likely, his inability to establish effective working relationships with the disparate group of individuals who constitute a football squad. A good manager always chooses the best tools to do the job in hand not the ones with which he is most familiar or most comfortable with. To put it crudely you don`t use a tenon saw to rip down a plank of wood.

Regardless, one thing is certain, irrespective of his competence as a manager, in the real sense of the word not just the football sense, O`Neill is intelligent enough to recognise that towards the end of his reign at Villa Park he had lost the overall support of the squad; even the support of some of those who were among his favourites. Football is a team game and to be really effective the various members must play for each other not just with each other.. They are also professionals who, regardless of anything else, understand the game they play. They must begin to wonder when an individual, who obviously has great skill and competence is consistently left out of the team, while someone else is played out of position and is demonstrably less able in all the required competences of that position.

This, over a period of time, will breed unrest among the team members, particularly when the policy causes a falling away of performance in the latter parts of the season. In his first years in charge MON could say it was due to the size of the squad. Slowly the squad numbers grew, but the team regulars remained the same privileged few and in the 2008-09 season we again fell away in a dramatic fashion. Last season, regardless of the hype, was sadly much the same. But, last year we had a squad of good really players, internationals mainly, and they don`t suddenly become bad players when they pull on a Villa shirt. .It was self evident that MON`s policy was actually affecting team performance. It had to happen, the high regard with which O`Neill was first held began to fall away, because the squad, which was good enough, on paper, to be winning trophies, was failing to do so. It could only be down to tactics, which became very, very predictable and to team selection. What started as an individual protest, over time, became significant squad unrest.

The writing was on the wall – a manager can go nowhere without the backing of the team. So regardless of the presented ‘facts` MON somewhat belatedly ‘read the Runes` – he quit.

Sadly, he was no where near as good a manager, for Villa, as the media would have us believe. Then again, perhaps I am being somewhat harsh in my judgment, because although O`Neill is intelligent it is perhaps unfair to expect too much from a footballer who does not have the proper training.


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