Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Villa unveil O'Neill as new manager

FROM HERO TO `VILLAN' Ex-Celtic boss Martin O'Neill returned to management on Friday when Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis named him as David O'Leary's replacement

AFP , BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND

Martin O'Neill, right, new manager of English Premiership team Aston Villa, is greeted by fans on Friday at Villa Park, Birmingham, England.

PHOTO: AFP

Martin O'Neill is the new manager of Aston Villa, the beleaguered Premiership side -- mired in complex takeover talks and facing an alleged players' revolt -- announced on Friday.

The inspirational 54-year-old saw his car mobbed by around a thousand fans as it drew up at Villa Park before a press conference to formally unveil the former Celtic and Leicester manager as the Midlands club's boss.

Villa chairman Doug Ellis said O'Neill had been chosen for his fabled motivational skills.

"Martin's success at Celtic and Leicester is well documented but his ability to motivate players is unsurpassed," Ellis said.

O'Neill said he was excited -- and terrified -- by the challenge of rousing a club often described as sleeping giants.

Asked if he was nervous, O'Neill replied: "Petrified. It's a fantastic challenge and I'm willing and ready to go."

"I think everybody is aware of the history of the club. And while trying to restore it to its former glory is going to take a big effort, why not try?" he said.

O'Neill admitted he was taken aback by his reception as fans crowded his car.

"I was overwhelmed to be honest," he said. "I didn't expect it."

O'Neill has just two weeks to bring a semblance of order to the Midlands club before the start of the new Premiership season, following a summer dominated by in-fighting and confusion.

Former manager David O'Leary, under intense pressure after Villa finished just above the relegation zone last season, left last month, officially by mutual consent.

It followed an internal investigation into the publication of a statement allegedly drawn up by leading players, criticizing their veteran chairman for a lack of ambition.

Adding further to the instability, no fewer than four potential owners are negotiating to buy the club from 82-year-old Ellis.

The favorite remains US billionaire Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL team.

He is known to have favored recruiting O'Neill -- perhaps indicating a deal with Ellis could be looming.

The other potential owners interested in the Birmingham club are consortiums led by life-long Villa fan Michael Neville and a judge, Nicholas Padfield, and one fronted by Athole Still, the agent of ex-England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

The Neville and Padfield bids indicated this week they might join forces so as to boost their chances.

O'Neill was also the overwhelming choice of Aston Villa fans.

A highly successful player, winning European Cups as a midfielder with Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980, he came to attention as a manager by steering a cash-strapped Leicester City side to a series of top half Premiership finishes in the late 1990s.

He followed this with three league titles and a UEFA Cup final appearance during five years with Celtic, before departing in May last year to look after his wife, who was being treated for cancer.

O'Neill must get to work fast at his new club -- amid the chaos, no senior players have been signed during the summer, while midfield lynchpin Gareth Barry has indicated he wants a transfer.

Villa fans would relish any sign of success. Despite an illustrious pedigree including seven league titles, seven FA Cups and a European Cup victory in 1982, the team has under-performed in recent seasons.

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