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What Would Martin O’Neill Do?


If Martin O’Neill managed any other club in the Premier League, would he be able to achieve more success than the club’s current manager?

What if O’Neill was in charge of Chelsea or Liverpool? Could he do a better job than Scolari and Benitez? I believe he could, by far. Read on to find the answers to WWMD – What would Martin do?

Under the reign of manager David O’Leary from 2004 to 2006, Aston Villa were a dreadful team to watch. Crippled by the tightfisted Doug Ellis and playing an unattractive brand of football, the outlook for the West Midlands side was dire. Martin O’Neill joined Villa as new manager in the summer of 2006. And a few months later, the answer to O’Neill’s prayers arrived when Randy Lerner pried Villa out of Ellis’s grubby hands, and brought a new wealth to the club in the form of transfer signings and a firm financial structure.

In just two years, O’Neill and Lerner have turned Villa around from a sleeping giant into a force to be reckoned with both on and off the field. There’s still a long way to go this season, but Villa’s recent form surpasses the recent dismal goings on at Arsenal and Chelsea, for sure.

It makes you wonder what impact Martin would make at any of the clubs in the Premier League. Given the same amount of money and time that the current managers have had, here’s what the “WWMD” accomplish at:

  • Chelsea. Chelsea supporters may bemoan the fact that Roman Abramovich has tightened his purse strings and hasn’t given Scolari the opportunity to bring in major transfer signings the way that Mourinho did, but there’s no doubt that O’Neill would dream of having such a talented pool as the one found at Stamford Bridge. I could see his man-management skills having a lot of success with dissatisfied players such as Joe Cole, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack. Players would respect him. I can also see the Northern Irishman giving opportunities to some of the B-rated players at Chelsea such as Michael Mancienne and Scott Sinclair (currently out on loan), as well as coming up with a tactical system that would work (whether Drogba and Anelka can play together, and finding a way to make the midfield work effectively).
  • Liverpool. For Martin O’Neill to have the same transfer budget as Rafa Benitez would be a dream come true for the Villa manager. Since he took the position at Liverpool in 2004, Benitez has spent millions on players. While he made wise choices by signing Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, he also has purchased plenty of flops including Morientes, Dossena, Gonzalez, Pennant, Josemi, Nunez and Kromkamp — just to name a few. In comparison, O’Neill has made plenty of shrewd signings including Ashley Young, Brad Friedel, Luke Young and Carlos Cuellar. One other thing about O’Neill. He would never go on the record and risk igniting Fergie’s fire by publicly calling out Ferguson the way Rafa did on Friday. O’Neill would know better. All it did was made Ferguson’s side more hungry and determined to beat Chelsea and set their sights on surpassing Liverpool in the league.
  • Arsenal. When given the opportunity to buy players such as Wenger has, the Frenchman has passed on the opportunity or has purchased inexpensive youth players instead for nominal fees. What O’Neill would have done is to acknowledge the weaknesses in this talented side and purchased two to three key players that would have made a profound difference on this team this season. Most notably, O’Neill would have purchased a replacement for Mathieu Flamini, secured a centre back to add steel to Arsenal’s back four such as Martin Laursen from Villa, and would have let moody Adebayor leave in the summer and replaced him with a more consistent goalscorer such as David Villa, a self admitted Gooner.

With Martin O’Neill at the helm, big Premier League clubs would be better. It’s astonishing to think that a bigger English club than Aston Villa hasn’t tried to pluck O’Neill away. To me, he’s the perfect successor to Sir Alex Ferguson when Fergie retires at United. Until then, we’ll continue to marvel at O’Neill’s success at Villa and watch his jump for joy when his side scores, and appreciate the way he hugs his players after matches. I only wish there were more Martin O’Neill’s in the Premier League.

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  1. Auslander

    January 13, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I'm just addressing your comments about Benitez and Liverpool. Benitez has made many shrewd signings besides the ones you mention. Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Momo Sissoko were all sold for Profit. Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Javier Mascherano would all walk into the First 11 at Villa and could all be sold for profit.

  2. Ian

    January 13, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Spot on jm. That is exactly the format that this article uses and it is a weak argument. Another issue here is that the expectations at a big club are entirely different. A part of the reason that big clubs have “flops” more often is that they have the spending power to actually sign high cost players. If Villa had the option to sign Shevchenko when Chelsea signed him, it's entirely possible they would have done the same.

    Now I can't specifically address the comments regarding Arsenal and Chelsea because I feel less qualified to do so, but as for the Liverpool comments. I would like to point out that right now we are still at the top of the league, and we only have two players in our starting eleven that were not purchased by Rafa Benitez (Our own Gerrard and Carragher) and you can even go further than that. The only player in the squad at all other than those two that was around when Rafa Benitez arrived was Sami Hyypia.

    I think it's silly to suggest say with any certainty that Martin O'Neill would have done any better considering that that is a COMPLETE overhaul of the club from top to bottom while maintaining excellence. Granted, he hasn't won the league (yet) but two champions league finals (one win) an FA cup and a community shield isn't so bad for a period of time when the man rebuilt the squad.

  3. Raatzie

    January 12, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Well put. And while we're at it, aren't David Moyes and Steve Bruce, like MON, doing more with less this year? Everton doesn't even have a striker.

  4. David

    January 12, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I think one of O'Neill's shrewdest signings has to be Carew – a straight swap for the average Baros. He's enjoying the best goalscoring period of his career and is heavily involved in the creation of goals, just like his strike partner Agbonlahor.

  5. Ross

    January 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I don't really understand the obsession w/ Martin O'Neill. Yes, he's obviously good, evidenced by the fact that his club has experienced great success (and some timely luck) in this first half of the season, but let's not go overboard. I used to think that EPL Talk was a good source of unbiased information, but I'm starting to believe that's not the case.

    I also don't understand your part about Arsenal. Yes, its true, Arsenal could use a couple of big money signings, but this would run completely contrary to the club's business model, and probably would not be tolerated in the board room. Arsenal's executives have made it clear that while Champions League and EPL success are at the top of their list, the #1 priority is to be in the black at the end of every campaign, and they have been able to do both, up until this season, and still there are a lot of games left and they only trail AV by three points in the standings.

    I think that this posting is a little over the top.

  6. ls7

    January 12, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I think one thing that you did not touch on that has been fairly key is that O'Neill (despite having the cash to do so) has kept his squad numbers fairly low. This keeps fewer unhappy players in the ranks and the player's understanding of one another on the field is generally going to be better.

    Chelsea have a tactical system that works…they were going along just fine when they were playing 5 in midfield (two pushed up high to support the striker) and Anelka was leading the line. Drogba returning has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works. You might say nice problem to have but I'm not so sure.

    I noticed that Manchester United was not on the list. Is this because you feel that United could not be run any better than they currently are?

    While I think he has done a very good job in the market, O'Neill has had some transfers that have not worked out — Marlon Harewood and Wayne Routledge come to mind. One transfer that often gets overlooked is the purchase of Nigel Reo-Coker. While some might say the £8.5m they paid is a bit much, he is quite a versatile player and can cover 3 positions (RB, RM, CM). A good utility player that has probably saved them even more in transfers if they had to have separate players for all those areas. He has also worn the captain's armband on at least one occasion that I know of, so O'Neill must have a fair amount of regard for him.

  7. jm

    January 12, 2009 at 8:31 am

    I guess I'm not sure I understand this. The inference seems to be:

    1) Martin O'Neill is a good manager.
    2) x, y, z are what ought to be done at Club A.
    3) Since Martin O'Neill is a good manager, if he were at A, he would do x, y, z.

    That seems a bit heavy handed. There are good managers on these sides already, and they did not do make these moves. Now, I think they can be wrong (I think Wenger was), but that is no reason to think O'Neill wouldn't do the same things.

    What strategies for roster construction does he use that you can use to bolster the argument? What specific decisions has he made that would give some (any) reason to believe that Martin O'Neill would make these clubs better? What can we learn from Martin O'Neill's track record? That he is a good manager is obvious, and he joins a set of other good managers in the Premier League. I'm much more interested in what makes him different (and perhaps better), and that is the missing premise from this enthymeme.

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