Date: 10th November 2007 at 2:33pm
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Steve Bruce outmaneuvered Martin O’Neill in the transfer window in the summer and his superior awareness of the modern game will pay dividends tomorrow – Birmingham will beat Aston Villa, and will beat them well.

It’s a bold prediction to make, but given Bruce’s track record in derby matches as a player and a manager – and O’Neill’s failure to reproduce his moments of genius he occasionally showed before leaving Celtic – it’s the only one that can be made.

One way to compare the two managers is to look at the Liam Ridgewell situation. O’Neill let Ridgewell move to St Andrews for £2million and then signed Zat Knight for £3million. Is Knight worth £1million more than Ridgewell? Is Knight even a better player than Ridgewell? Even the most optimistic of Villa fans would have trouble answering those questions truthfully.

When O’Neill left English football for Celtic in 2000 he probably didn’t realise how much the game would change in 2006. While there was obviously pressure at Celtic, it was a totally different kind of pressure. Domestically, he only had four truly important games a season to worry about and, apart from reaching the final of Europe’s second-string competition, he didn’t achieve much in Europe.

He left Celtic in 2005, as his wife was ill and he wanted to care for her. Now, that’s a very noble thing to do and no points should be scored because of the seriousness of the situation. However, it cannot be denied that in the year he was away from management, the game changed even more.

So fast-forward another year to when Doug Ellis appointed O’Neill as Villa boss. Yes, that’s right – despite tomorrow’s visitors wanting to forget it was Doug Ellis who appointed O’Neill it really did happen! O’Neill had finally returned to English football, to a real football league and to a club who were in a totally different position to Celtic.

What did he do then? Well, he brought in some old cronies first – Chris Sutton, Didier Agathe and, last but not least, Stiliyan Petrov! The Bulgarian who has set the world alight after moving for somewhere between £6.5-£8million with his woeful displays is perhaps a good example of how someone can be look legendary in the SPL, but utter garbage in the English Premier League.

Being fair for a moment, it’s only right to admit that O’Neill had little time to really act in the transfer market as the sale of the club to American credit card man Randy Lerner took a long time to complete. Though that doesn’t explain O’Neill’s actions in the January and summer transfer windows of this year.

Too many times, and even Villa fans would surely admit this, O’Neill has made comments about not wanting to be held to ransom by clubs asking for lots of money for their players. Well, Martin, the amount of money clubs command for players has increased by quite a large amount since you were at Leicester – and surely you must have realise that during your time as a pundit, while performing your “I’m Martin O’Neill, aren’t I great” act?

So if money is an issue, why pay that mad amount of cash for Petrov? Scottish clubs can’t command the sort of money English clubs can for players, nowhere near as much, yet there didn’t seem to be much complaints there. Is you concern really money? Or are you, perhaps, just saying that because you don’t want to let the Villa ‘faithful’ know the truth – that players don’t actually want to play for a team of mid-table long-ballers?

Sure, that might not be anywhere near the truth, but with the Petrov fee, combined with the Ashley Young transfer, things don’t appear to add up. Perhaps it would do if we travelled back in time to 2000 at Leicester, who knows.

Tomorrow should be interesting – for Birmingham City have a manager who knows he is managing Birmingham City in 2007. But can Aston Villa make the same claim – or is Martin O’Neill stuck in a time-warp where he is trying to transform Villa into Leicester City of 2000-ish, where he can get back into his comfort zone…?