Aston Villa Manager O’Neill Quits 5 Days Before Season Starts

Martin O’Neill quit Aston Villa today to leave the soccer team without a manager five days before the start of the English Premier League season.

The Birmingham-based club announced O’Neill would be leaving after the Northern Irishman spoke with the American owner Randy Lerner earlier today.

“It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club,” O’Neill said in a statement published on Villa’s website. “I will obviously be assisting the club in the immediate short-term with regard to the handover of my duties.”

O’Neill’s departure comes as a long-standing transfer battle with Manchester City over midfielder James Milner appears close to a resolution with both clubs saying a deal is close. Winger Ashley Young has also been linked with a transfer. It’s unclear whether O’Neill’s exit is connected to problems keeping his squad together. Villa had a 43.7 million pound ($70 million) loss, according to its most recent financial filing.

O’Neill, who was the 11th longest serving manager in English soccer, joined Villa in 2006. Under his guidance, the seven-time English champion improved its performances to qualify for European soccer’s Europa League for three straight years and last season was a League Cup finalist.

“He has helped to establish the club in the upper echelons of the Premier League, has taken us to Wembley and we have also qualified for European competition for the past three seasons under his management. We wish him the best in the future,” Villa’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Faulkner said in a statement.

U.K. bookmaker William Hill made Ajax coach Martin Jol as the 2-1 favorite to replace O’Neill. Earlier in the summer the former Tottenham manager declined to take up the vacant post at Fulham.

O’Neill said he didn’t want to sell Milner when City first declared its interest in June. The situation mirrors that of the acrimonious departure of former captain Gareth Barry to the same club before the start of last season.

The team plays its first game this weekend at home against West Ham United. Villa finished sixth in the league last season. Reserve team coach Kevin MacDonald will take over as caretaker manager.

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