Milner deal the final straw as O’Neill quits Villa helm

FRUSTRATED Martin O’Neill finally lost patience with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner yesterday and quit as manager just five days before the start of the new Premier League season.

The Northern Irishman brought an abrupt end to his four-year tenure at Villa Park amid speculation the club were about to let midfielder James Milner join Manchester City in a £24m move.

O’Neill, 58, pledged his future to Villa back in May following clear-the-air talks with Lerner over the club’s ambition to break into the top four.

But he is said to be unhappy with the club’s sell-to-buy policy and in particular the way the Villa board bowed down to the demands of big-spending City and reduced their £30m estimation for Milner.

Caretaker Kevin MacDonald will take charge of Villa’s opening Premier League game with West Ham on Saturday, while names such as Sven-Goran Eriksson, Bob Bradley and Martin Jol are being linked to the job on a permanent basis.

O’Neill has transformed the fortunes of Villa since replacing David O’Leary in August 2006, taking the club into the Premier League’s top six in each of the last three seasons.

Announcing his decision, the former Celtic boss said: “I have enjoyed my time at Aston Villa immensely. It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club.

“I would like to pay tribute to the Villa players, my coaching staff and the Villa supporters for all the support and encouragement they have given both the club and me personally during my time as manager. I wish them all the best for the future. I will obviously be assisting the club in the immediate short-term with regard to the handover of my duties.”

Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner added: “The club would like to thank Martin for the great work he has done at Aston Villa over the past four years. He has helped to establish the club in the upper echelons of the Premier League, has taken us to Wembley and we have also qualified for European competition for the past three seasons under his management. We wish him the best in the future.”

Former Villa and England boss Graham Taylor, wasn’t surprised, however, by O’Neill’s decision.

“I think it’s been coming,” he said. “What has happened is that he realises he will need more money to take this club further and it would appear that is not forthcoming.”

NEXT IN LINE | LEADING CANDIDATES

Bob Bradley – 7/2
Led the USA to the quarter-finals of the World Cup and Villa chief Randy Lerner may seek comfort in linking up with a fellow American.

Martin Jol – 4/1
Ajax’s former Tottenham boss has already turned down Fulham but may find the lure of Aston Villa harder to resist.

Sven-Goran Eriksson – 5/1
Currently out of work and with an ultra-impressive CV, but will the ex-England boss be popular with the fans?

Alan Curbishley - 11/2
Out of work since leaving West Ham in September 2008, has been linked with several posts but yet to win over a board.