O'Neill in threat to walk away from Villa

Manager issues warning after negative reaction from fans and reports of breakdown with chairman
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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill warned last night he could walk out on his 12-month rolling contract at Aston Villa at the end of the season and supporters would be left to reflect upon losing the best thing that has happened to their club in a quarter of a century.

O'Neill has reacted to criticisms following Villa's 7-1 Premier League capitulation against FA Cup semi-final opponents Chelsea and increasing rumours of a breakdown with Randy Lerner with a clear message that he will reserve the right to hand in his resignation when he performs a final audit of the current campaign with his American owner in the summer.

"At the end of it all, I will sit down here and talk to the chairman at the end of the season and we will see where we are positioned. People make judgements and calls and things, I will see, and if the Aston Villa fans are disgruntled with it, I will take it into consideration," O'Neill said.

"If the chairman, who will have a big say in proceedings, agrees, and interestingly I will have a say in proceedings, because it is my life. There will be people with a big say in proceedings. I include Villa, the chairman and myself. That's what I'm saying. It doesn't need me to keep going and explaining what I have said. If I haven't articulated it well enough to you, then that is where I am going."

Ironically, just a few days after rumours on the internet and radio claimed that O'Neill had walked out on the club on Tuesday, the Tweeters who started the claim that spread like wildfire could turn out far more prophetic than they ever dreamt. O'Neill appears to be growing weary.

He is irked by demands for instant success, angry over constant speculation regarding his working relationship with Lerner, which appears functional at best, after being told to operate a "sell to buy policy" and he has been appalled at Villa fans booing his side off in their previous two home games and questioning his selection policies and refusal to rotate a squad assembled at the cost of £179m.

Criticisms of his heavy spending without tangible reward and claims by Deloitte and Touche that the club's wage bill is £70m per annum and 84 per cent of their operating profit have also annoyed the 56-year-old, who insists his record as Villa manager stands comparison to all since Tony Barton left in 1984 and his spending has been grossly exaggerated.

"In recent times I'd say I'd be a breath of fresh air looking at this club and that is putting a few things in perspective. Four seasons ago we had a disaffected club. In that August we had sold 12,000 season tickets. The team was close to relegation the previous season. We have reached the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-final," said O'Neill. "I have the utmost regard for some managers who have been here before. By the same token, I must stand up for myself somewhere along the way.

"I have invested £80m over four seasons. That is £20m per season. I have to assume the figures on wages includes every single employee at this club. If not, then it's simply not true. I don't care about Deloitte. We are not 84 per cent of turnover. They are not the figures I saw a fortnight ago. Nowhere near that. We are heading for the biggest turnover in the club's history."

He insisted he still has a working relationship with Lerner and his backing. "I heard that I had a fight with Randy on Tuesday. He was with his daughter on Tuesday afternoon and he was the first one to call me and he asked if I wanted him to say anything about the rumours," said O'Neill, who claims Lerner is delighted with the prospect of a third successive qualification for Europe.

Whether O'Neill stays will depend on whether Lerner is prepared to invest further, which could involve shelving plans for redevelopment at Villa Park. It will take further serious funds to bridge the gap to the Champions League places and improved corporate facilities, banqueting and seating at Villa Park will not help.