O'Leary tees off at Villa with target of reaching Europe

It was fitting that David O'Leary should introduce an anecdote from his other great sporting passion to the niceties of his first day as Aston Villa manager. Some of Doug Ellis's seven previous appointments from his second spell in charge of the club have found dealing with the chairman to be like standing on the 17th tee against Tiger Woods with a three-hole deficit.

By comparison, yesterday was like stepping on to the first fairway on a dewy spring morning. But O'Leary, a golf lover, has already sampled the pessimism among Villa supporters following their 16th-place Premiership finish.

"I was at the Benson and Hedges Tournament at The Belfry recently and some Villa fans spoke to me,'' he said. "I don't want to sound arrogant but one said that Martin O'Neill or I were the sort of people they would like as manager, although they knew they couldn't get us.

"I thought there must be some gloom about the place if they are thinking like that, so I have to try to lift expectations.''

Ellis has a growing army of opponents among Villa's support and must even be starting to doubt those he regards as friends. No less a figure than Graham Taylor - a man the 79-year-old calls a close family companion - accompanied his resignation last week with the observation that it was time for change at the top.

O'Leary, out of the game for almost 12 months following 30 years in it, has a honeymoon period of 12 weeks before a ball is kicked competitively.

Whether this is a marriage made in heaven is unlikely to be discovered until at least then, but the manager is happy that a working relationship which began with tea and toast at the chairman's Sutton Coldfield home starts with a clean slate.

"Me and Mr Ellis are starting from here," he said. "I have three years to prove myself here and the target is Europe. That's where a big, classy club like this should be.''

The former Leeds United manager stopped short of hailing Villa's youngsters as being in the same mould as the youthful set he helped develop at Elland Road. O'Leary's sightings of the team in 2002-03 were restricted to television as he did not want to be seen in grounds where he might have been perceived to be a threat to an incumbent manager. That effectively confined him to visits to Old Trafford and Highbury.

There is already speculation - which O'Leary refuses to comment upon - that he could attempt to snatch Lee Bowyer from the clutches of Newcastle United. Another possible target is the Blackburn Rovers midfielder David Dunn. He is also keeping his own counsel over the make-up of his backroom team.

Ellis yesterday described himself as soft and is promising to keep his distance. "The success of any club is to have the manager and chairman as blood brothers,'' he said.

"David's domain is the training ground at Bodymoor Heath. About the financial side, he talks to me.''

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