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By ESPN Staff

Villa begin search for O'Leary's successor

Aston Villa supporters today welcomed the departure of David O'Leary but were left wondering who would succeed him with Doug Ellis still in control.

O'Leary's three-year reign at Villa Park finally came to an end last night, with the club describing his exit as an 'amicable parting of the ways'.

After a six-hour meeting with a three-man inquiry panel, investigating the release of a statement issued by players that criticised Ellis O'Leary was cleared of any involvement.

However, the club felt the time was right for a change, with O'Leary walking away with a large pay-off.

Assistant manager Roy Aitken has been put in temporary charge ahead of Villa's pre-season friendly against Walsall at the Bescot Stadium tomorrow night.

Alan Curbishley, a former Villa player who left Charlton at the end of last season after 15 successful years in charge, has emerged as the leading contender to succeed the 48-year-old Irishman.

Inevitably, former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill has been speculated upon, but after being linked with more high-profile jobs in the past without taking them up, it is hard to see the Ulsterman stepping into the hot seat.

With Villa still in search of a new owner and seemingly with limited money to spend on new players, Ellis may struggle to recruit a man who would be the 14th manager in his time as chairman.

Aston Villa Shareholders' Association chairman Jonathan Fear said: 'As soon as criticism mounts on Doug Ellis he fires the manager.

'He is unable to look into the mirror and see the common denominator. He should have gone first. But it's no surprise O'Leary has gone. There was a lot of anger amongst the fans and I don't think anyone will shed any tears for him.

'He distanced himself from the fans, insulted them, and last season was diabolical. But while Ellis is here I can't see anyone succeeding. Why would a 14th manager succeed whereas all the others have failed?'

Former Villa left-back Colin Gibson, who played for the club from 1978-85, told BBC Radio Five Live Ellis should now quit.

'I think most fans would like to see him go too now,' said Gibson on the 82-year-old. 'As a chairman Ellis is meticulous, very shrewd. He's nobody's fool but he's getting old and we need someone who can steer the club back on course.

'There are a lot of people who'd love the challenge of being Aston Villa manager.'

Ellis, who has a 39% stake, has stated previously he is prepared to sell, but only if the conditions are right for himself and the club.

A takeover approach was made last year and there have been other reports of financial investment in recent years, but Ellis has remained in power.

In a statement to the Stock Exchange this morning, the club confirmed talks are 'ongoing' with potential investors.

The statement read: 'Shareholders and supporters will be aware that Aston Villa have been in an official offer period since September 19 2005, when the AVIL consortium made an initial approach to the company.

'As previously announced, the board appointed Rothschild as an adviser to examine the AVIL proposal and can confirm that there have since been a number of other approaches from various parties, both from the UK and overseas.

'Extensive discussions involving Rothschild, the chairman, Doug Ellis, and credible parties are ongoing and will be fully explored to determine whether a formal offer for the issued share capital of Aston Villa will be forthcoming.

'However, there is no certainty any of these discussions will lead to an offer being made. Shareholders and supporters will be updated in due course.'