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O'Neill: Player power on the rise

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill believes player power is more prevalent in the game today than at any time during his own distinguished playing career.

And former Northern Ireland midfielder O'Neill admitted he would "never take for granted" that he has the backing of all Villa's players.

O'Neill's comments come in the aftermath of the training ground bust-up with midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, who was axed from the squad for Saturday's game with Portsmouth.

O'Neill would only reveal he had spoken to Reo-Coker on Monday and that the conversation would remain private.

But, in general terms, he accepts players now want a greater say in club affairs.

O'Neill, whose side face Cardiff tonight in the Carling Cup at Villa Park, said: "The game has changed now. In my day, and days before that, players had no power.

"The club and the manager ran the show. That's the way it was and nobody saw fit to change it. I felt at the time that players should have a better say in proceedings but now it's gone the other way.

"Players now at least want to believe that they're in charge of things, and there's probably a great deal in that, so it has gone full circle. The reason it has done so is because of the money in the game.

"I do believe that if there's a valid viewpoint, then you should listen to it, but if you're spouting off just for the sake of things I'm not so sure that makes for easy listening."

O'Neill added: "Are all the squad singing from the same song sheet? I would never take anything like that for granted at all. I never have done so as a manager.

"I certainly wouldn't be foolish enough to believe that all the time, even when things are going well. This idea that you will please every single player at the football club all the time is simply impossible.

"If you were to ask any manager that, he would say that that's the nature of things."

O'Neill refused to confirm whether Reo-Coker will return to the squad for the clash with the Bluebirds.

He said: "I had a word with Nigel in private and that is how it is going to remain as far as I am concerned. I won't be divulging what I said to him - or he to me.

"If Nigel and his associates close to him want to divulge anything, that is entirely up to them. As far as I am concerned, that is the end of the issue."

Striker Emile Heskey (ankle) and winger Ashley Young (calf) are rated doubtful with O'Neill poised to make a number of changes, albeit insisting they will not weaken the team.

He said: "I said I was going to try and utilise the squad this season but the players who will come into the team are not peripheral players.

"They are players who, in the cases of one or two, perhaps might consider themselves unlucky not to be in the starting line-up.

"From that viewpoint, whatever side that goes out, I would be happy in the knowledge that they will be capable of winning the game for us."