If they were dancing in the streets of Aston yesterday, the first day of Randy Lerner's takeover of Aston Villa from Doug Ellis, the welcome in the leafy lanes around the club's rural training centre was more circumspect. Martin O'Neill described Lerner as "well intentioned", but he faces a race against time if the American billionaire's money is to help Villa make a belated impact on the summer transfer market.
O'Neill, whose return to Premiership management continues at home to Newcastle United tomorrow, insisted he was "really trying" to bolster his squad before the transfer window closes on Thursday. Unless he received a windfall from Lerner, however, he did not anticipate spending more than the £5m-plus promised by Ellis, making loan signings instead with a view to buying players when the window reopens in January.
Intriguingly, O'Neill made it clear he regarded Newcastle as a template, in terms of their ambition and willingness to invest, for what Villa could become under Lerner. "They have the essence of a brilliant club - 54,000 people go and support them. They get a serious injury to Michael Owen, so what do they do? Spend £10m on a replacement [Obafemi Martins]. They also bought Damien Duff.
"Newcastle deserve success. It doesn't matter what their financial position is, they're prepared to do something because the club demands it. They mean business. They don't want to be on the periphery. I might be deluding myself, but I feel Villa can get there too. This club has the potential to be great again. I'd love to be here when it happens."
O'Neill is clearly confident that Lerner will not be content with a place on the periphery either. "I'll sit down with him to give him an assessment of the squad's strengths and what I think might be needed," he said. "Whether that is done in time for Thursday is another matter. I won't be holding out on it. I have a sum the chairman [Ellis] gave me and I'm going to have to do something with it. But time is pressing."
Increasingly, he sensed he may have to wait until the new year. "This isn't the best time to be looking out for quality players. The best ones may still be involved in European competition and not want to leave. Other clubs want our decent players. We've had bids for Gareth Barry and we're trying to keep them at bay.
"Put that in reverse and I'm in the same position, though I'm really trying. I hate talking about it because, come next Friday, you [the press] will be asking: 'What have you done?'" O'Neill pointed out.
"I could fill the squad up with players that wouldn't be good enough. But I don't really want that any more. I want to try to get better quality. If I can't do that I will have to try to supplement the squad until January. I wouldn't discount loan deals."
Contrary to some reports, O'Neill and Lerner are not bosom pals already, trading transatlantic banter about American football and Lerner's ownership of the Cleveland Browns.
"I wouldn't pretend to know him at all," the former Celtic manager said. "But from our short conversations, I believe he's well intentioned.
"He called me this week just to say 'well done' for the first two results. Now he has put his money into the club and that should be good news. He knows Villa's potential and has a fair idea of the history of the place. I was pleasantly surprised by what he knew about 'soccer'."
O'Neill has a passing interest in American football and an "empathy" with its coaches, yet he was clearly keen that Lerner should understand one crucial difference between the sports. "In American football, there's no relegation and the sides that finish bottom get the best college picks. In our game, not only do you go down but you get penalised as well."Reuse content