Martin O’Neill unexpectedly quits Aston Villa

Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa (Getty Images)

Five days before the Premier League’s season begins, Martin O’Neill quit his role as manager of Aston Villa. Graham Taylor speculates it’s over the transfer policy (i.e. his best players being sold without his consent).

It is, perhaps, more a symptom of the manager’s loss of control. As more wealthy owners buy clubs, they become increasingly willing to enforce their will. Take Roman Abramowich’s early days at Chelsea. He wanted to assemble a fantasy team of high-profile players. Look how that turned out. (Well, actually, it worked out pretty well, but because José Mourinho was the manager. But they didn’t get to the Champions League final until 2008, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge.) Abramowich’s spiritual successors are the owners of Manchester City, Tottenham, and, of course, Aston Villa.

Thus, as clubs become vanity projects, managers lose control. Stability is the first victim and, as I’ve mentioned before, stability is perhaps the key to long-term success. A lack of stability also means that the owner will be unable to attract quality managers. And without a quality manager, quality players won’t come, either. (Lack of European competition also means those managers and players won’t come.)

Abramowich learned from his mistakes and now lets his soccer people make their own decisions (aside from a general directive to play attractive soccer, which Ancelotti blithely ignores). Time will tell if others learn a similar lesson but, for now, it cost Villa a pretty good manager.

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