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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Alan Hansen's column

Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Martin O'Neill is one of football's smartest operators, says Alan Hansen
Martin O'Neill can walk into any room and any company and liven it up - make people feel better

Aston Villa are a club that has hit the jackpot - and I don't mean by attracting the financial firepower of new majority shareholder Randy Lerner.

I mean by tempting Martin O'Neill to end his managerial exile and return to football after taking time out to care for his wife Geraldine while she was ill.

Martin has got the magic touch, and while he will be the first to calm euphoria surrounding Villa's current third place after three Premiership games, he has had just the start he wanted.

It is to the detriment of other clubs that they could not tempt Martin back, because when you are talking about the top three or four managers in this country, he is right in there.

With all due respect to Villa, given their recent past and position in the Premiership, I suspect they could hardly believe their luck when they were able to get him.

I have got all the time in the world for Martin.

He has got a priceless ability to walk into a room, whether it is a dressing room, a crowd or a BBC studio, to liven the place up - to make people happy and feel better about themselves.

Martin also has a bit of a reputation as some sort of eccentric, someone who is a little bit all over the place - you can forget that.

When it comes to football he is a very smart man. He knows his stuff and knows what is required for success. You only have to look at his previous clubs to see that.

Villa got off to a good start at Arsenal and have built on that with wins against Reading and Newcastle.

The good days aren't back yet and Martin will be keen to point out that it could all look different after three more games, but you can build the platform for a top six place in the Premiership with a sound start.

New Sunderland manager Roy Keane
Keane's appointment is a gamble for him and Sunderland - but a gamble well worth taking

I've been getting a bit of stick for suggesting Villa could finish in the top six after Martin's appointment - some of that was light-hearted to put a bit of pressure on Martin, but there is no reason why they can't achieve that.

You have the established top four in the Premiership, then after that it is much of a muchness.

If Martin can add one or two more players, then who is to say they cannot cement a top six place?

But one thing is certain, Villa have a real chance of achieving things under one of the shrewdest managerial operators in the game.

Villa were lucky enough to be able to get an established name to head up a new era.

Sunderland and Middlesbrough have gone down a different route by letting untried young men with no managerial experience take their jobs in the shape of Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate.

I do not know Roy Keane, but I do know he is not stupid and he will call on all the experience he has gained to try and make a success of things at The Stadium of Light.

He is not used to failure and will do everything in his power to ensure his name is never associated with it.

The pressures will be different. Sunderland will want Keane to restore them to where they feel they should be, while Southgate has to build on the success and stability Middlesbrough have enjoyed, reaching the Uefa Cup final last season.

Keane will have to accept, which is difficult, that Sunderland's players are not as talented as he was. He cannot demand they should be as good as him, but he will be demanding they be as committed as him.

He may bring someone in who knows the players, and he will also be smart enough to know he needs to keep the dressing room together.

Southgate has a different balancing act to achieve because he will have mates in Middlesbrough's dressing room having gone from being a key player to being the manager, and it is very difficult to drop a mate.

I was at Liverpool when Kenny Dalglish, a very good friend of mine, went from being a player (a truly great one as well) to being a player-manager.

It was very clear from the start who was manager, all of us understood that.

He made me captain, and as well as me knowing he was now the manager, he also understood I was a player.

Kenny knew I wouldn't be coming to him with titbits and gossip from the dressing room and I knew he wouldn't ask. This would have been footballing suicide.

Gareth will be learning all these things and I wish him every success.

So, three managers with three very different tasks. It will be intriguing to see how their seasons unfold.

Lawro on Keane
28 Aug 06 |  Sunderland
Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle
27 Aug 06 |  Premiership
Middlesbrough 0-4 Portsmouth
28 Aug 06 |  Premiership
Keane becomes new Sunderland boss
28 Aug 06 |  Sunderland
Sunderland 2-0 West Brom
28 Aug 06 |  Championship


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