Kevin MacDonald has jumped to the defence of ‘good friend’ Martin O’Neill and denied that the former Aston Villa manager deliberately disrupted the club with the timing of his departure.
MacDonald has guided Villa through the opening weeks of the season in a caretaker capacity following his predecessor’s shock resignation on August 9, five days before the campaign kicked off.
Villa have experienced mixed fortunes during their first three Premier League matches with two victories at home to West Ham United and Everton and a heavy defeat away to Newcastle United.
The claret and blues have also exited the Europa League at the qualifying stage after following their impressive 1-1 draw in Austria with a damaging 3-2 defeat to Rapid Vienna at Villa Park.
O’Neill’s untimely departure has also affected their movements in the transfer market with the board understandably reluctant to do business without a permanent manager in place.
The only deal conducted before the window closed on Tuesday teatime was the arrival of Stephen Ireland as a makeweight in the £26 million deal which took James Milner to Manchester City.
Despite O’Neill’s walkout causing almost a month of uncertainty at Villa Park, MacDonald has leapt to the defence of his former colleague who has been a close confidante over the past four years.
MacDonald has scoffed at suggestions that O’Neill deliberately left his decision to quit Villa after months of rumblings of discontent until the last moment in order to cause maximum disruption.
“Martin was a good friend and an educated man so I wouldn’t have anyone saying anything bad about him,” said MacDonald, who is under consideration to permanently replace O’Neill after declaring his interest in the job on Monday.
“In the last three or four years that Martin was here he was a great supporter of the things I did.
“He would also enlighten me about certain things and how he might do it – not making decisions for me, but giving me little bits of advice and an education.
“In many ways we became friends. We played golf now again – not close friends but that was the sort of relationship we built up together.
“Sometimes he would divulge things to me that he probably would not say to any of the other staff. I would be very surprised that he actually left the club in the lurch. He is a football person, he loves his football.
“From my point of view I have got to ask the question why would he deliberately do that? I can’t see it – it’s just my own thoughts.
“There must have been a frustration of some description and I haven’t actually spoken to him about it.
“But I wouldn’t decry anybody if they decide what they want to do.”
Despite his relationship with O’Neill, MacDonald is unable to explain why his predecessor’s relationship with Randy Lerner broke down at the start of this month rather than at the end of last season.
“I can’t answer that because I can’t tell whether Martin was more frustrated at the end of last season or into the pre-season,” he said.
“I just thought he’d all of a sudden had enough and decided that was it. That is the only way I can look at it because, from talking to him, there was never any indication to me.
“I don’t know what sort of talk went on about the money that might have been available or not available. If that was a frustration then he never portrayed that to myself.”
MacDonald revealed O’Neill has telephoned him to pass on his best wishes since his bombshell departure and even passed on the scouting report he had compiled ahead of Villa’s opening-day victory over West Ham.
Asked how much O’Neill’s exit had damaged the club, MacDonald replied: ““It probably hasn’t helped the football club, but the players have to help themselves.
“When we played West Ham he had done a scouting report the previous week and he phoned me up. So if you are saying he left the club in the lurch he was still showing the club he has got heart then. Whether it was trying to help me out or trying to show the club that – I think it was probably a bit of both.
“He could have quite easily walked away and not bothered phoning. That’s why I find it difficult for people to say that.”
MacDonald insists it is important the club have a clear vision over how they wish to proceed in the post-O’Neill era, regardless of whether he or an alternative candidate is given the job.
“How we see the future of the club going would be a big thing,” he added.
“If the club says it’s ‘sell to buy’ then we have to develop those young players quicker and better but also keep the club progressing to keep your senior players keen and interested in trying to win things.
“It’s not a case of dropping down the standards, we want to still be trying to force ourselves into Europe and going on good cup runs because that’s the nature of the club. If the supporters that come here every week saw we weren’t doing that they wouldn’t be very happy. This football club and fans will be here a long time after I am.’’