RANDY Lerner confirmed that Martin O'Neill is staying on as Aston Villa manager -- even though he must look to operate on a sell-to-buy policy as he attempts to keep edging the club towards the top four.
The Villa chairman "can see weaknesses in the other clubs" and is confident that his relationship with his manager is "closer" than ever. After weeks of speculation over O'Neill's future, Lerner took the opportunity yesterday to assure Villa fans that the manager is going nowhere.
Having reached the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-finals, Villa finished the season in sixth place in the Premier League with their highest points tally, 64, in 17 years. After holding productive talks this week, O'Neill will set about reshaping his squad.
Lerner also confirmed that the club will do everything they can to keep James Milner as Villa continue to look to year-on-year improvement.
But there is no question of them attempting to follow Manchester City's extravagance. Lerner said he would not countenance bidding £30million for a player, citing the example of Tottenham Hotspur's perennial squad growth as a more suitable model for Villa to follow.
"Martin will be back next year, that's been settled," Lerner said. "I gave him the assurance that I wanted to take the team forward. There's money there to be spent on the team. But I'm careful not to simply say, 'Here's a brand new amount of money, go and spend it.'
"I'd prefer to say our ambitions to get better remain and that we are not shutting the door on spending on players. I think there's a sell-to-buy policy in nearly every organisation. I think that it's good business to try to sell to buy."
O'Neill will consider selling disaffected players such as Curtis Davies, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luke Young, Nicky Shorey, Steve Sidwell and Habib Beye as he looks to trim his squad before aiming to buy. But he is content that, even on a tightened budget, he can keep Villa advancing.
Key to that will be keeping Milner. O'Neill has been reassured that Lerner is in no mood to cash in on a player who, having cost £12m when signing from Newcastle United in August 2008, has already been on the radar of Manchester United and City.
"I'm not worried about losing James Milner," Lerner said. "I think James Milner will play for Aston Villa and should play for Aston Villa. I know that we as an organisation are very mindful of the realities that surround James and where he is currently. We're going to do everything we can to keep him."