O'Neill to strengthen to stave off challengers
Martin O'Neill is already eyeing up players to strengthen Aston Villa's bid for honours next season after admitting he expects Manchester City and Tottenham to be major rivals.
O'Neill and his team of coaches and scouts are scouring the country for potential new blood as Villa look to build on this season's push for a European spot.
The former Celtic boss is due to meet club owner Randy Lerner during the next few days to discuss his plans.
O'Neill said: "I have been checking out players up and down the country - any country. We had about 15 games covered at the weekend all over the place.
"We are looking at players to try and improve the team. That is the important thing. If we are going to keep going in the way we are doing, then trying to improve the side means trying to compete.
"It will not be easy next season. Manchester City will be very strong. They have got the wherewithal and the financial clout to do something about it.
"Tottenham Hotspur spent big in January just to get out of trouble so you can imagine, with the hope and expectation with Harry Redknapp coming there, that they will also have the wherewithal.
"I really think this summer will be very important indeed and also very difficult.
"I will be speaking with Randy (Lerner). If it is not this week, then it will be the week after. We will get a chance the next time he is over (from America).''
O'Neill believes Lerner is happy with the progress being made by Villa, who for a long time were challenging strongly for a Champions League spot before a recent slump in fortunes.
He said: "I think Randy is pretty aware of things. He has watched a lot of football. He has been pretty excited about the way we have played.
"He sees this season as one of progress. He has been delighted - and also delighted that the crowd have stayed with us.
"He has got some decent plans as well for the improvement of Villa Park in the next couple of years.''
Central defender Martin Laursen is expected to confirm his retirement because of his well documented knee problem during the next few days.