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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 1, 2006

Villa step up move for O'Neill

Aston Villa are closer to appointing Martin O'Neill as David O'Leary's successor with chairman Doug Ellis keen to bring in the Irishman before the pre-season tour of Germany and Holland gets underway this weekend.

Ellis is understood to have already spoken at length on several occasions with the former Leicester and Celtic boss who has been out of the game for 15 months since quitting Parkhead to look after his sick wife Geraldine.

Now 82-year-old Ellis will intensify his efforts to lure O'Neill to Villa Park and try to revive a club who only just held on to their Premiership status last season.

Villa quashed speculation O'Neill would be announced as O'Leary's replacement on Tuesday but it is expected to happen sooner rather than later.

O'Neill's long-time backroom allies John Robertson and Steve Walford are expected to join him at Villa Park.

Villa operations director Steve Stride said: 'Contrary to rumours circulating today, there is no announcement planned concerning the appointment of a new manager.

'The situation remains ongoing and we will inform fans as and when it is possible to do so. But speculation concerning an announcement today is extremely premature.'

The big sticking point is likely to be whether O'Neill believes he can work with Ellis on a day to day basis or if he wants new buyers in place at Villa before agreeing to come to the midlands club.

Four consortiums are vying to take control at Villa Park with American billionaire Randy Lerner believed to be keen to revive his interest - and he is a big fan of O'Neill.

Lerner, the owner of NFL side Cleveland Browns, is poised to make a firm offer for Villa after initially looking set to pull out of negotiations following a meeting with Ellis last week.

Ellis is looking for whoever takes over to make £20million available for new signings on top of the £64million required to buy Villa.

The veteran chairman is aware of the need for Villa to strengthen with not a single signing having been made since the end of last season and loanee James Milner having returned to Newcastle.

It has prompted long-serving midfielder Gareth Barry to question whether he should seek fresh pastures although, contrary to reports, he has not handed in a transfer request.

O'Neill has all the qualities required to revive a sleeping giant like Villa two decades after taking his first steps on the managerial ladder with Shepshed, Grantham and Wycombe.

Meanwhile, Sunderland have made an inquiry about veteran striker Kevin Phillips who was a cult hero on Wearside earlier in his career.

But a Villa spokesman said: 'The situation regarding players is quite simple. No decisions will be made until the appointment of a new manager.'