O'Neill eager to add new faces to squad
Martin O'Neill has admitted he needs to bring in several quality players before the transfer window closes on August 31 - just for Aston Villa to 'stand still' after last season's achievements.
O'Neill worked wonders with the smallest squad in the Barclays Premier League to steer them into sixth position - an improvement of five places on the previous campaign - and an Intertoto Cup spot.
But the departure of several experienced members of his squad including Olof Mellberg, Thomas Sorensen, Patrik Berger and the on-loan Scott Carson to West Brom means new blood is urgently required - although keeping Gareth Barry away from Liverpool's clutches is a mjor plus.
O'Neill has a reputation for making 11th-hour additions before either August or January transfer windows slam shut as demonstrated with the late arrival of Ashley Young, John Carew and Shaun Maloney in January 2007.
Only midfielder Steve Sidwell (Chelsea) and veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel (Blackburn), for a combined tally of around £8million, had arrived before the tail-end of July.
O'Neill said: 'We have got things in motion. The difficulty is in getting real quality players. Everybody is finding the same. All the clubs of a similar position to ourselves are in exactly the same boat.
'What I will say is that we are working as hard as we possibly can to improve our squad, which is what we need to do.
'The fact is we need to improve our squad to stand still, never mind anything else. That's the difficulty. We finished sixth last season and, for us to stand still, we need to improve the squad.
'So for us to go forward we are looking at a sizeable squad and quality players - if we can do it. That is our aim but for us to really make progress we have got to improve the side, the strength and the quality of the squad.'
O'Neill is hoping Villa's qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in seven years will help to attract players in the latter stages of the window.
He said: 'Players, particularly those coming from abroad, want to play in the Premier League and there are only so many teams that can be in Europe each year.
'But to be able to say to prospective signings 'we are in the UEFA Cup' certainly won't hinder our chances.'
O'Neill has great expectations of winger Young during 2008-09 after his pace and trickery resulted in him breaking into the England squad last season.
He has already made an impact with a stunning goal against Odense in the second leg of the Intertoto Cup to ensure Villa overcame their resilient Danish opponents 3-2 on aggregate.
O'Neill said: 'Everyone knows what I think of Ashley and he had a great first full season here. I gave him a free sort of role towards the end of the season, rather than asking him just to stay on the left wing, and he was immense.
'He is capable of anything. He looked a threat for most of the season and he's been getting back already in the build-up to this season to the form of last year more quickly than we would have imagined.'
O'Neill knows Villa have to come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders if they are to have a chance of repeating or even surpassing last season's achievements.
And the capture of Friedel, after eight years at Blackburn, and Sidwell, who carved out his reputation at Reading before moving to Chelsea, will help fulfil that aim.
O'Neill said: 'It is an interesting time. It is an exciting time as well. We are well aware of what we have to do but we are not starting to worry about a clock running down.
'What we have to do is get ourselves prepared. The truth is that for us to be competing again, we need to be competing immediately as soon as the Premier League season kicks off. From day one, that is our aim.
'Friedel is an absolutely quality goalkeeper. I think he will do great for us. By all accounts, he's a great character and a great character in the dressing room. I am sure the signing will be a lift for everyone.
'Sidwell is another good signing for us. He is definitely capable of scoring a few goals and we've got to play him in that role where he can maybe get forward to achieve that.'