Villa hit by O’Neill resignation

Martin O’Neill resigned as manager of Aston Villa with immediate effect, the English Premier League club said on Monday after the former Northern Ireland captain’s relationship with owner Randy Lerner had deteriorated beyond repair.

The club gave no reason for the departure of the 59-year-old Ulsterman, just five days before Villa kick off the new season with a home match against West Ham, but bookmakers had suspended betting on his leaving the club as he grew more and more disillusioned with having to sell his best players each summer.

Last year he was forced to sell England midfielder Gareth Barry to Manchester City, and it looks certain that after a protracted battle this summer that another England international midfielder, James Milner, will also be snapped up by big-spending City.

“Aston Villa can confirm that Martin O’Neill has resigned as manager of the football club with immediate effect,” the club said in a statement.

“Kevin MacDonald, reserve team manager, has assumed the role of caretaker manager and will prepare the team for the opening Premier League game of the season against West Ham on Saturday at Villa Park.”

O’Neill, appointed in 2006 and who guided Villa to their third successive sixth-placed finish in the Premier League last season and also to the League Cup final, said he was sad to be leaving the club.

“I have enjoyed my time at Aston Villa immensely. It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club,” said O’Neill, who has had previously successful spells as manager of Scottish giants Celtic and also at Leicester City.

“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.”

Lerner insisted in May that the former Northern Ireland midfielder — who captained his country at the 1982 World Cup finals and was also a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest — had pledged his future to Villa after intense speculation over whether he would quit. — Sapa-AFP

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