James Milner is expected to complete his move to Manchester City today with Stephen Ireland joining Aston Villa in exchange. The £26m deal has long been touted but coming the day after Villa chairman Randy Lerner appeared to signal a scaling down of the club's ambitions it may prove a sign of things to come at Villa Park.
Ireland is set to undergo a medical today with Villa keen to press ahead with recruiting the Irish midfielder – and letting Milner move on – despite being without a manager following Martin O'Neill's shock departure on Monday.
Lerner released a statement yesterday on O'Neill's decision to walk away from the club five days before the start of the new campaign. Lerner's tone was different to the one he adopted in May when he said "the ambition and appetite to compete for the top four spot and qualify for the Champions League is as alive as it's ever been".
Though Lerner also stated yesterday that "there have been no changes in our approach to building the club," his comments did seem to be an acknowledgement that Villa's size will restrict their growth – an assertion which, even though the club recorded a £73.4m loss last season, Lerner refused to accept three months ago. As recently as the end of last season he said he was optimistic of Villa making a real challenge to break into the top four.
Lerner's fairly terse statement, allied to the departure of one of the Premier League's brightest managers, may not encourage Ashley Young to stake his hopes of reviving his England career on Villa, with Tottenham aiming to take him to White Hart Lane.
Lerner's statement read: "Having had some time to reflect on Martin leaving, I can say that our most immediate focus is supporting Kevin MacDonald [caretaker manager] and resolving the situation with Manchester City and James Milner. As for explaining why Martin left, I can say only that we no longer shared a common view as to how to move forward. To deal in greater detail would do little but cause additional distraction for the club as it faces imminent games and the clear priority of hiring a permanent manager."
Names in the frame for the managerial position include the US coach, Bob Bradley, and Gareth Southgate, although it remains unclear whether MacDonald will be given the chance to make the job his first.