In a fresh twist to Aston Villa's summer of discontent, David O'Leary fought for his job last night after being summoned before the tribunal appointed by the chairman, Doug Ellis, to look into the circumstances surrounding the so-called player mutiny.
O'Leary had a 20-minute meeting with Steve Stride, Villa's operations director, and two non-executive directors. A source close to the former Leeds United manager, 48, maintained the hearing "went well".
Earlier, Villa's senior professional Kevin Phillips had rallied to O'Leary's defence amid reports the Irishman had antagonised not only Ellis but also the dressing-room. Phillips, 32, emerged as a conciliatory figure, backing both O'Leary and Ellis. The striker claimed he spoke for his colleagues, although some reputedly gave anti-Ellis quotes to a local reporter who collated them, with the players' consent, into a "statement".
"We all think there has been too much discussion about off-the-field matters," Phillips said. "We are completely supportive of our manager, all his staff, and of course our chairman.
"Unfortunately, this seems to have broken into a feeding frenzy. I would just like to focus on getting into the best shape, physically and mentally, for the new season. I can assure all Villa supporters that's what we're doing. I am sure the board and manager and I know the team will pull together to make that happen."
Ellis, who last night was linked with making a move for former Charlton manager Alan Curbishley, is monitoring events from his annual Majorcan cruise.
Speculation had been rife Villa would check O'Leary's mobile-phone records for evidence of calls to the statement reporter. But the company holding his account, Sportsmobile, said it would never breach client confidentiality. Ironically, Sportsmobile is co-owned by one of O'Leary's predecessors, John Gregory.
* Nicolas Anelka is on the brink of joining Portsmouth for £7.5m from Fenerbahce, according to reports.Reuse content