Aston Villa last night confirmed Martin O'Neill as their new manager. The former Celtic and Leicester manager has been appointed amid the backdrop of a battle for control of the club, with several parties looking to buy out the chairman, Doug Ellis.
Ellis confirmed that John Robertson would be O'Neill's assistant, while Steve Walford links up with the 54-year-old as coach. The chairman said last night: "To me, Martin's passion and ability to motivate players is unsurpassed. We had three meetings at my home and I've not spoken to anyone else.
"We had a dozen applicants but Martin was my choice at the start and here he is today."
O'Neill has been left in no doubt as to the weight of expectation he has shouldered by resuming his managerial career at Villa.
More than 1,000 supporters were massed outside Villa Park last night when the 54-year-old Ulsterman arrived for the press conference to announce his appointment. He is the 14th manager to be installed by the Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, though that number includes Graham Taylor's two stints in charge. Ellis likened the reception given O'Neill to those that greeted two of his most illustrious predecessors: Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson.
O'Neill accepts he is putting the managerial reputation he fashioned at Leicester City and Celtic on the line. The list of those who have failed to turn Villa around includes such notable names as Taylor and Billy McNeil.
O'Neill was greeted as though he had already restored the glory days, when Villa followed up their League Championship success by lifting the European Cup in 1982. But he reminded his fans there is a long way to go before his new charges get anywhere near those heady days.
"I hope to be the one who brings some success back to this club, but it is a long way off at the moment," he said. "I must say, I was overwhelmed by the reception and certainly didn't expect it. There were a couple of fans outside, and it was the briefest of conversations, but their expectations were very high and did worry me.
"I have to admit that I am petrified by the challenge, but this is an absolutely fantastic football club, and I'm raring to go.
"I've got to prove myself to the Villa people that I can do the job. I think I can, but that's easy talk, and it's not going to be easy."
O'Neill has signed a one-year rolling contract and has no reservations about working with Ellis, who is a chairman not exactly renowned for having an easy working relationship with his managers.
'"Mr Ellis has appointed me as the manager, and I will work under him and with him," O'Neill said. "I don't pretend to know him that well. We had some rapid meetings and that was it."
With Villa in line for a takeover and American billionaire Randy Lerner expected to complete the deal by September, O'Neill's association with Ellis is likely to be brief. But as far as the 82-year-old Villa chairman is concerned, his appointment of O'Neill is crucial.
The other groups interested in acquiring control at Villa, headed, respectively, by the local businessman Michael Neville, the deputy judge Nicholas Padfield QC and Sven Goran Eriksson's agent, Athole Still, would, it can be safely assumed, also be happy with O'Neill as their manager.
"This is my greatest signing since I've been here," said Ellis. "There's no argument about that. I hope Martin is here for a lifetime. I'm absolutely delighted he's decided to manage us we had 12 applications and he was the only one I wanted. His success at Leicester City and Celtic is well-documented, and to me his passion and ability to motivate players are unsurpassed."
Ellis has also promised to provide the finance for O'Neill to strengthen the Villa squad, which with O'Neill's predecessor, David O'Leary, denied any funds for the past year is somewhat threadbare.
"There are some funds available," said a concerned O'Neill. " I'm going to use them if possible, because I do need to strengthen the squad. "
O'Neill is expected to return to Celtic for his first acquisition by landing the £3m-rated midfielder Stilian Petrov. He has also surrounded himself with two other familiar faces: Robertson and Walford, who were assistant and coach respectively to O'Neill at Leicester and Celtic.
O'Neill's appointment ends a five-year break from the Premiership and a 15-month hiatus from football management. The Ulsterman has spent the last year and a quarter looking after his wife, Geraldine, who has cancer. Prior to that he had restored Celtic to their position of Scotland's number one club by guiding them to six trophies in five seasons.
O'Neill is confident, however, that he has not lost touch with the Premiership. "I've kept my eye on things since being in Scotland and out of the game," he said. "It's changed a little bit, but not too much. I've missed the game immensely in the last 15 months, and not a day has gone by without me thinking about it or keeping tabs on it."
O'Neill and his management team have yet to see Villa play or meet the players. That omission will be rectified today when the trio, along with Ellis, fly out to Hanover, where Villa are due to play a friendly at the start of their pre-season tour to Germany and the Netherlands.
O'Neill will use the friendly and two subsequent ones next week to take stock of the players he has inherited from O'Leary before, Petrov excepted, making any new signings.
But with the transfer window closing at the end of the month, he knows time is not on his side, especially as his new club faces a daunting start to the season.
"Our first game is against Arsenal at the Emirates, so that's quite a start," O'Neill said. "I've certainly put myself under pressure by taking this job, but I'm certainly up for the challenge."
Percentage game: O'Neill's record
* WYCOMBE Aug 1990-June 1995 (Not including Conference results)
P: 112 W: 52 D: 32 L: 28 Won: 46%
Honours: Promoted to Football League 1993
Promoted to Second Division 1994, FA Trophy 1991, 1993
* NORWICH CITY June 1995-Nov 1995
P: 20 W: 9 D: 7 L: 4 Won: 45%
* LEICESTER CITY Dec 1995-June 2000
P: 223 W: 85 D: 68 L: 70 Won: 38%
Honours: Promoted to Premiership 1996, League Cup 1997, 2000
June 2000-May 2005
P: 282 W: 213 D: 29 L: 40 Won: 76%
Honours Scottish Premier champions 2001, '02, '04, Scottish Cup 2001, '04, '05, Scottish League Cup 2001Reuse content