Randy Lerner, the Aston Villa owner, says his relationship with Martin O'Neill is as "close as ever" after revealing the Northern Irishman will be remaining as manager for next season. And Lerner is adamant there will be money to spend on new signings during the summer although Villa would not be able to bring in a £30 million (Dh163.5m) player.
O'Neill's future was constantly under discussion at the tail-end of last season after unsubstantiated speculation that his relationship with Lerner, the American multi-millionaire, had deteriorated. But Lerner could not have been more clear cut in his statement that O'Neill will be at the helm for a fifth successive campaign with the club. Lerner said: "I gave Martin assurances that I also wanted to take the team forward. I want to make it clear that Martin will be back next year managing.
"That's been settled. We feel very good about that as it represents continuity for the players and in many other ways. "Let me say again, Martin O'Neill will be the manager next season. He has definitely agreed and I wasn't worried that might change. "In fact, I would say our working relationship is as close as ever - if not closer." Lerner admits a general "sell-to-buy" policy will remain in place and the likes of Curtis Davies, Luke Young, Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Sidwell, Nicky Shorey and Habib Beye will be available to leave if the price is right.
But that will not stop the owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns making funds available to O'Neill over and above that policy. Lerner said: "A £30m striker would be out of our budget but there is money there to be spent on the team. "I say that carefully in the context of knowing that the summer brings a very dynamic environment of players coming and going, so I'm careful not to simply say, 'Here is a brand new amount of money, go and spend it.' I would prefer to say our ambitions remain to get better and we are not in some sort of mode where we are shutting the door on spending on players. Is there a sell-to-buy policy? I think there is a sell-to-buy policy in every organisation on the planet."
Lerner is confident that Villa will be able to retain the services of James Milner, the England midfielder, who is due to have further talks over a new contract during the summer. Milner, the PFA Young Player Of the Year, has been linked with a possible move to Manchester United. Lerner said: "I am not worried about losing James Milner and I think he will play for Aston Villa. "We will do everything in our power to keep him."
Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has confirmed he intends to sign a defender this summer after he admitted his side's performances at the back this year have been "average". Arsenal have now gone five seasons without winning a trophy and Wenger has highlighted his side's defensive frailties as the reason why Arsenal have come up short after they conceded 41 goals in the league.
"If you divide the season into two - going forward we have done very well but defensively we have been average," said Wenger, who could also lose William Gallas on a free transfer this summer. "When you concede [more than] 40 goals you don't win the championship and I want to rectify that." * PA