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And The Winner Is…

Two weeks ago, I announced the five nominees for my Premiership Manager of the Year award. Amongst the five were a Scotsman (David Moyes), an Irishman (Roy Keane), a gentleman from Northern Ireland (Martin O’Neill), a Spaniard (Juande Ramos), and a voyeur…excuse me, a Frenchman (Arsene Wenger).

That list was then narrowed down to three “semifinalists”, as I dropped Ramos and Wenger from contention. The original plan was to name the winner two days later, but as you all know, I made a change and delayed the announcement until today, when two more rounds of games were played. As far as the winner goes, I really saw all I needed to see this weekend.

Don’t get me wrong, I think each of these three managers have done a terrific job at their respective clubs this season. One of them has stood out above the rest, however, and so without further ado, here he is, my 2007-2008 Manager of the Year:

Drumroll please…

It’s Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill!

I chose this specific picture of O’Neill because I think it is a great representation of the type of manager he is. We saw it after each of his team’s five goals yesterday against Birmingham, this is a guy who is a players’ coach and his team absolutely loves playing for him.

You can tell a lot about a manager by observing what he does after his team scores a goal; Sir Alex Ferguson has the same, exuberant celebration every time, Steve Bruce hops around a lot, Arsene Wenger pumps his fist a few times, Kevin Keegan leaps out of the dugout when Newcastle bags one, and they’re all good, good managers. On the other side of the coin, you have guys like Rafa Benitez and Avram Grant, who seem almost disappointed when their their sides put one on the board. By no means are those two men bad managers, but again, it’s telling that a high player turnover rate either has been or will be a constant in their tenure.

O’Neill takes it to a whole other level. He’s the only manager from what I can tell who actually wears cleats on the sideline, showing his solidarity with the players. He jumps seemingly four or five feet off the ground when Villa scores, races down the touchline, and then runs back again.

“OK, that’s fine, but what has O’Neill actually done to deserve this award?”

Well, I’ll tell you. He has one of the smallest, if not the smallest, first team rosters in the Premiership. Only 16 field players have started a league game for the Villains this season and of those 16, nine have started 20 matches or more in the Premiership and 12 have started ten or more.

He also has one of the youngest first team rosters in the league. I joke all the time that he basically has half of England’s U-21 team but the reality is, these are now players who are on the verge of the senior national team based on their performances this season, my man Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor chief among them.

Villa finished in 11th place last year and have a legitimate chance to wind up 5th this season. They’ve already improved on their 2006-2007 win total (11) by five, with three games left to play. A victory at Everton this weekend and the Birmingham-based club will almost assuredly be playing in Europe next season, either the Intertoto Cup to get into the UEFA Cup or straight into the continent’s second-tier club tournament.

You also can’t underemphasize Villa’s two wins over Birmingham in the Second City Derby this year, and the 5-1 victory yesterday was a complete thrashing. Any time you can beat your hated rivals twice in one season, that’s an accomplishment, no matter where either team sits in the standings.

O’Neill has shown an ability to make tactical adjustments on the fly, something that is key in a manager. His recent formational switch to a 4-3-3 has helped to net 15 goals in Villa’s last three games. Villa’s reputation as a set-piece monster also comes straight from the manager, who oversees that in training every day. Sure, it helps to have great aerial threats like John Carew, Olof Mellberg, and Martin Laursen, and a couple of fantastic dead-ball takers in Ashley Young and Gareth Barry, but success and execution still has to start from the manager.

Martin O’Neill, ladies and gentlemen, my 2007-2008 Premiership Manager of the Year.

For those who are interested, I had Moyes in second and Keane winning the Bronze.

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  1. Burt Reynolds

    April 24, 2008 at 11:44 am


  2. villafandan

    April 22, 2008 at 7:59 am

    guess what michael?? i agree!!! nice one!!!

    some choose to criticize his lack of activity in the transfer market and create all kinds of conspiracy theories about the club. i actually admire what i see as his policy to make do without rather than compromise and bring in players that aren’t right for the squad.

    that said, with a few more players like mellberg due to leave this summer, o’neill has only one priority and that’s to bring in players!!

    however, after the season we’ve had this year we’re certainly in a stronger position to bring in quality!!


  3. Michael

    April 21, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    I agree with what you’re saying about Sven, my main issue with him is that City has tailed off considerably since starting the season like a house on fire. I think he’s done a good job, as you said, of molding together a team full of new players from different countries, and I think they’ll be a serious contender for a UEFA Cup spot next season.

    This season, though, they’ve gradually been falling further and further down the table. While their top-half finish is certainly respectable, Sven hasn’t been able to get much consistency from his team in recent weeks.

  4. Brian Koski

    April 21, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I enjoyed the article and agree that Martin O’Neill is an immensely underappreciated gaffer. However, Sven is manager of the year…I am absolutely stunned that he did not even make the top five!

    Sven, in his first season with City, took a club mired in the bottom half of the table and immediatetly molded a nucleus of many new faces/nationalities that was a cohesive unit remarkably by the opening match and throughout the summer/autumn…definitely the single most impressive managerial feat of the season. Moyes, O’Neill, etc. did not effectively rebuild a side that quickly. And Sven did this under the haunting stigma of a nation disappointed with his England managerial reign.

    Roy Keane has the enormous benefit of his name, his seemingly continuous pipeline to Man Utd. players, and the fact that he’s praised for finishing 17th or higher this season. Wenger threw away silverware this season by not acting in the January transfer window. Ramos got a talented existing side to finally play to its potential while outsourcing his communicative responsibilities to Gus Poyet!

    Just one guy’s opinion. Thanks for all your efforts in making EPL Talk so timely and intriguing!

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