The Irishman’s resignation has created as big a stir amongst Celtic supporters as Villa fans. Nostalgic memories of the Seville days die hard but in football it is incredibly rare for any player or manager to return and recapture former glories.
O’Neill is from the old school of management, a dying breed with only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger having the control and domination over their club that O’Neill appreciated at Nottingham Forest with Brian Clough.
At Celtic his relationship was exclusively with Dermot Desmond, other directors, chief executives and chairmen had little influence with the two Irishmen deciding policy between themselves.
After a year out of the game O’Neill found the perfect passport back into management as Doug Ellis sold the club to Randy Lerner. The American has become increasingly interested and involved over the seasons and is no longer standing back with an open cheque book to bank roll his managers plans.
The first public seeds of doubt emerged in the spring as O’Neill reacted to criticism from Villa fans chasing the elusive next step for their club.
A League Cup Final appearance and FA Cup semi-final defeat was no compensation for failing to break into the top four and gain entry to the Champions League qualifiers.
Losing 7-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge brought the frustrations of the Villa fans and their manager to a head.
In the aftermath of that result O’Neill said: “I will be talking to the chairman at the end of the season to see where we are positioned.
“People make judgments and calls and I will see if the Villa fans are disgruntled with it. I will then see if the chairman, who has a big say in proceedings, agrees.
“Interestingly, I will have a say in proceedings because it’s my life.”
Having his destiny decided by others is something that O’Neill struggles to accept, it has to be his way or no way.
In the modern game it is very unlikely that the former Celtic boss will be handed a blank canvas to shape a top club in his own image, the current breed of football owners tend to be more hands on than those that O’Neill has been used to dealing with in his career.
Being told that he had to sell James Milner and possibly Ashley Young before he could move into the transfer market looks to have had a major bearing on today’s decision.
The aftermath of the Chelsea defeat stung O’Neill into a stout defence of the job that he had performed at Villa Park.
He claimed: “I must stand up for myself somewhere along the way. By the time August comes around, I’ll have been here four years. I’ve invested £80m. That equates to £20m (a year) at the end of it all.
“If the chairman so desires- which he has not intimated to me- that the club choose to sell four or five players, and we all know who they are, then he would get a return on his money. With interest. I think all of that has been forgotten.
“Four years ago we were a disaffected club who had sold 12,000 season tickets. The team were close to relegation. I know the chairman is very pleased with the players here who are major acquisitions for the club.
“We have reached the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-final. I have the utmost regard for some managers who have been here before, but in recent times I’d say I’d be a breath of fresh air looking at this club.
“We are heading for the biggest turnover in the club’s history. The major issues are television revenue, winning competitions, keeping going, bonuses for reaching Wembley, extra television revenue. If I’m responsible for results then I’m also responsible for that as well.”
An uneasy peace was brokered but again Villa finished outwith the top four. With Spurs claiming a Champions League spot, Manchester City buying for fun and Liverpool looking to return to the top four the omens for Villa aren’t promising.
Dealing with criticism isn’t something that O’Neill experienced at Celtic or Leicester, as recently as Friday he was lamenting the modern ways and non- stop scrutiny that he has to work with.
Before facing Valencia at Villa Park he said: “I’ve never worried about looking for votes of confidence or anything like that. I’ve never bothered about it in the past and certainly now, as I get older, I’m less concerned about it than ever.
“When some story appears on a blog and people take it up, then you find out that you’re having to answer to it.
“I shouldn’t find it incredible any more but it just is. The fact people kept on running with it and kept going with it became tiresome.
“Who’s to say it (the speculation) has gone away? This is the nature of the game.
“You’re in it. You’re judged. You’re judged on the last 25 minutes of the last game you’ve played. It’s not a problem to me.
“But really I’ve known this for a long, long time about the nature of football management. That’s not unusual to me.”
Three days later O’Neill and Villa had parted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man that transformed Celtic a decade ago is never seen again in a dug out.
The degree of control that he has become accustomed to throughout his career is unlikely to be offered again.
Famously at Celtic O’Neill was asked if he could ever see himself working with a Director of Football. “I’d rather be dead,” was the sharp reply from the man that removed Kenny Dalglish from that post at Celtic.
Martin O’Neill, Director of Football, has an unlikely ring to it. From this distance it seems just as likely that he’ll be back in management.