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Football: O'LEARY ON TRIAL; New owners will give him two months to improve Villa.

Byline: MARTIN ROGERS and DAVID McDONNELL

DAVID O'LEARY will have just two months to prove himself to Aston Villa's new owners and hang on to his job as manager.

O'Leary, whose side lost 4-1 at Manchester City yesterday, only took over at Villa Park in the summer but faces a "probationary period" from the consortium headed by billionaire Venezuelan Gustavo Cisneros and former FIFA referee Jose Farias.

The Irishman will get public support from the take-over group in the same way Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has given Claudio Ranieri time to prove himself at Chelsea.

But if the club have not shown a significant improvement by Christmas, O'Leary would be in danger of the sack and could be replaced by a leading South American coach.

Two former national team bosses, Marcelo Bielsa of Argentina and Mario Zagallo of Brazil have already been sounded out by Farias and Cisneros.

The consortium could complete their take-over this week after a weekend of talks. Villa chairman Doug Ellis announced to the Stock Exchange last Friday there had been approaches.

The group are determined to give Villa a more South American appearance and they will put pressure on so players like Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel and Ecuador midfielder Ulises De La Cruz are given key roles.

Part of O'Leary's brief, if he stays in the job, will be to look into recruiting some of the top South American names during the January transfer window.

He will be tempted to change things around after a Nicolas Anelka hat-trick destroyed Villa yesterday.

O'Leary offered no excuses for his side's display, although injuries forced off central defenders Olof Mellberg and Ronny Johnsen.

He said: "We can't afford to give teams like City the space and time we did.

"They punished us for our poor performance. We just weren't good enough.

"We lost Mellberg and Johnsen, but we can't use that as an excuse. You get injuries in football and you just have to get on with it."

City manager Kevin Keegan was delighted with Anelka's performance, and said: "He can go on to become the best striker in the world.

"People forget Nicolas is still only 24 because he's been around so long. But if he carries on playing like that, he can go on to be the best in the world."

Keegan hailed Steve McManaman - making his City debut following his move from Real Madrid - as his man of the match.

He said: "For a player who has hardly played much in recent months, he was in fantastic form."

CAPTION(S):

NO DEFENCE: Injury-hit Aston Villa had David O'Leary howling yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 15, 2003
Words:436
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