MARTIN O’Neill has deliberately kept a low profile this week ahead of his return to former club Aston Villa.
The Sunderland manager declined the usual opportunity to speak to the Gazette early in the week, out of respect for Villa – he did not want to become the main talking point ahead of what is bound to be a contentious meeting this weekend.
And opposite number Alex McLeish responded by also delaying his main Press conference until today – both managers facing the media just 24 hours before the match in the West Midlands.
For O’Neill it will be a sensitive return to the club he walked out on after four successful years in charge.
O’Neill and rich American owner Randy Lerner helped revive a proud club that had fallen on hard Premier League times – the manager steering his side to three consecutive sixth place finishes.
The club has declined since his departure just days before the start of the 2010/11 season, with the manager believed to have quit over a lack of financial support in the transfer market as Lerner looked to significantly reduce expenditure.
But opinion is split between many Villa fans over whether the loss of O’Neill is what has led the club to fall away, or whether O’Neill is responsible for overspending on players and putting the club in a difficult position.
A PR battle has raged on both sides since his controversial departure and O’Neill has no desire to fans the flames ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.
But what is indisputable is that since his exit, Villa have been a fading force, while since his arrival at Sunderland, the Black Cats have revived dramatically.