Euro 2008 - Villa free O'Neill for England

Eurosport - Fri, 19 Oct 17:45:00 2007

Martin O'Neill has emerged as a leading contender to replace Steve McClaren as England manager after Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner said he would not stop him from leaving the club.

FOOTBALL 2007-2008 Premier League Aston Villa Martin O'Neill - 0

Wednesday's defeat in Russia means England are likely to miss out on Euro 2008 qualification - a scenario that would almost certainly lead to McClaren's dismissal.

Speculation over the next England manager has been fuelled by conflicting claims over former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho's interest in the job, but Lerner said O'Neill would be free to leave if the FA came calling.

"It's clearly one of the greatest honours you can achieve in football," Lerner said. "If it were to happen, you'd have to [respect] that opportunity. I would not stand in his way. But, my God, I hope he's here for the long term."

Lerner appointed O'Neill after taking over the West Midlands club last summer, and the Northern Irishman has built an impressive team that looks capable of challenging for UEFA Cup football.

The American - who also owns the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise - said the level of interest in the former Leicester City and Celtic manager was testament to the job he has performed at Villa Park.

"I don't know that I have great insight on that subject," Lerner said. "That's between Martin and the FA. There's some welcome flattery in the whole thing. Obviously, there'd be increased interest in Martin because of how he's handled himself at Aston Villa. That speaks well for his first year here and the first part of this season."

O'Neill was interviewed for the England job in 2006 when Sven-Goran Eriksson announced he was leaving, but the FA chose instead to appoint Luiz Felipe Scolari.

When Soho Square's bungled approach caused the Brazilian to rule himself out of the running, they settled for Eriksson's former assistant McClaren.

AC / Eurosport