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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
The O'Neill effect
By Chris Bevan

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill
The key to Martin's approach is two things - organisation and inspiration

Steve Claridge

In the space of three months, Martin O'Neill has transformed Aston Villa from no-hopers into a team that can do no wrong.

Virtually the same group of players that narrowly avoided relegation last season under former boss David O'Leary have become unbeatable since O'Neill took charge.

Eleven games into the new season, Villa are the only undefeated team in the top four divisions of English football.

O'Neill made a sentimental return to his former side Leicester City in the Carling Cup on Tuesday - a club that knows all about his magic touch - and saw Villa triumph 3-2 in extra time.

O'Neill had a four-and-a-half-year spell in charge at the Foxes' old Filbert Street ground between 1995 and 2000.

After a poor start he steered the club into the Premiership - where he managed four straight top-10 finishes and lifted the League Cup twice before leaving for Celtic.

Journeyman striker Steve Claridge was one of O'Neill's first Leicester signings and the scorer of the goal that took the club into the top flight.

He tells BBC Sport the secrets of O'Neill's success.

INSTILLING BELIEF

During my time playing for him at Leicester there was only one game where I walked off the pitch thinking that we did not do ourselves justice

Steve Claridge

The key to Martin's approach comes down to two things - organisation and inspiration.

Every player who plays for Martin believes in what he is doing because he does not put square pegs in round holes - he does not ask players to do things they are not good at.

He chooses them to do specific jobs for the team and they are the things they know how to do.

When it comes down to the man-management side of things, these lads come with most of the equipment - they have the confidence and the character.

But you have to set them up properly.

He does that and that is why his players believe in him and in themselves - it is because they are happy in the environment they are working in.

GETTING RESULTS

A lot of times when you see teams play you get passion mixed up with belief.

We say that there is no passion but it has nothing to do with that.

Players at the top level do not lose their passion - what they lose is belief - they do not believe in what they do.

With Martin, you believe in what you are doing but there is more to him than just motivating his players.

He is also extremely tactically sound, which is a massive, massive plus.

He knows how to organise a team in the right way no matter who they are playing.

During my time playing for him at Leicester there was only one game where I walked off the pitch thinking that we had not done ourselves justice - a 3-0 away defeat by Leeds - and in two-and-a-half years that is not a bad record.

BUILDING A TEAM

O'NEILL'S VILLA SIGNINGS
Stilian Petrov (Celtic - 6.5m)
Didier Agathe (Ex-Celtic - free)
Chris Sutton (Ex-Celtic - free)

Martin has only made three signings at Villa - but they are all players he has worked with before.

He buys players to make a difficult job as easy as he possibly can for himself. He wants people who have got a character and a personality that he knows will come to the fore on a Saturday afternoon.

At Leicester he turned the club around within six weeks of getting there.

He did not win for 10 games but then he got three players out for 1m and brought three players in for 1m.

I am not just saying this because one of them was me but he knew what he was getting with those three players - myself, Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzett.

We were the difference between what was a good side - and a team that we knew would win the play-offs and comfortably survive in the Premiership.

He likes players who have all the components he wants.

It is no good buying the right players skill-wise and them not being tactically sound - and he won't do it.

It is like going on a diet. It is no good doing the fitness but eating rubbish too.

When you look at the state Villa were in last year it is hard to think they would go this amount of time unbeaten.

But it should not surprise anybody what Martin can do. He is an extremely good manager - the best I have played under - and his record speaks for himself.


SEE ALSO
Leicester 2-3 Aston Villa (aet)
24 Oct 06 |  League Cup
O'Neill seeks European football
21 Sep 06 |  Aston Villa
Villa uncovered
05 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa
O'Neill named Aston Villa manager
04 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa


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