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Football: Why Villa lost out on Milner.

Byline: PAT MURPHY

If you Aston Villa fans are seeking a scapegoat for the collapse of the James Milner transfer from Newcastle United, train your sights on their chairman, Freddy Shepherd.

He was unimpressed that Martin O'Neill took so long to reject Newcastle's overtures last spring in the wake of the sacking of Graeme Souness.

Shepherd, hardly the most popular Premiership chairman among his own fans, was well aware that he had dropped a clanger in appointing Souness after the sacking of football's Queen Mother, Sir Bobby Robson.

Shepherd needed to make his next appointment sing with the Gallowgate End. O'Neill was the obvious choice. Except that O'Neill notoriously takes his time when making momentous decisions concerning his managerial career. And who can blame him?

During the weeks that Shepherd was wooing O'Neill, the England job was on the market and, if Steve McClaren landed that plum, so therefore was the Middlesbrough post.

Any sensible manager out of work would be attracted to working with Middlesbrough's Steve Gibson, by common consent the best in the Premiership.

In the end, O'Neill rejected both Newcastle and Middlesbrough. No hard feelings from Gibson but I wonder about Shepherd.

How else to explain the farcical events of transfer deadline day last Thursday? Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder had given his blessing to Milner's transfer, the fee had been arranged and the player - so popular during his year's loan at Villa Park - was delighted at the proposed move.

Yet, five minutes before Milner arrived at Villa to complete the deal, Newcastle rang to say it was off. Mark Viduka's refusal to move to Newcastle from Middlesbrough was the official reason. And yet - Viduka is an old-fashioned battering ram of a centre-forward while the slight and speedy Milner is an intelligent player on the right side of midfield. No like-for-like comparisons there.

Then, later in the day, Newcastle signed Antoine Sibierski from Manchester City, a similar sort of player to Milner. Curiouser and curiouser.

Hopefully the deal will be resurrected in the January transfer window but, for now, Shepherd must be very pleased with himself.

"Shepherd was well aware that he had dropped a clanger in appointing Souness. He needed to make his next appointment sing with the Gallowgate End. O'Neill was the obvious choice"
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 5, 2006
Words:378
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