Paul Parker

Villa not ready for title challenge

Paul Parker

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Aston Villa have been on a great run and are just three points off the top of the Premier League table, but I don't think they can be considered title contenders just yet.

The best they can hope for is a place in the Champions League, probably at the expense of Arsenal.

They may need to add to their squad to be a force in Europe's top competition, although it is worth noting that much of their success has been built on consistent team selection and they have dealt with a UEFA Cup campaign this season without too much drama.

But as for the title - not yet. Martin O'Neill is a realist and I think he knows Villa do not have the best squad in the division.

His strategy has been to make steady but significant progress each season, and he will be aware of what can happen if you overachieve.

Look at Everton when they pipped Liverpool to fourth place a few seasons ago - the next season they were nearly relegated.

In the 90s Blackburn went down soon after winning the Premier League, and Ipswich were relegated the season after qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

O'Neill is putting the foundations in place for sustained success and I think that once Villa do break into the top four, they could be there for a while.

While the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have splurged on established stars, O'Neill has focussed his buys on talented youngsters like Ashley Young, along with more experienced players such as John Carew.

He has spent a relatively large amount, but has done so in a measured, methodical fashion - in contrast to a few other clubs I could mention.

You can't build a house on top of a swamp, and Villa's future looks bright with a united squad that has plenty of English players and a nice balance of youth and experience.

The best thing about getting into the Champions League would be the boost to their revenue and their reputation, which would allow them to add the kind of quality which could see them mount a strong title challenge.

But for all the pats on the back he is getting, O'Neill knows his job is only half done and Villa need to sustain their form over the second half of the season to stay in front of the Gunners.

O'Neill has been mentioned as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but I don't think there is any point talking about that yet.

It all depends on when Sir Alex decides to call it a day - and it will be his decision alone.

We know that he wants to overtake Liverpool's record of 18 league titles - which means a minimum of two more years at Old Trafford. He also wants to win a third Champions League.

And if he manages to reach those milestones, he will not want to stop there and leave a side that is competing for silverware every season.

So O'Neill should not bother thinking about United and just focus on Villa - and as a pragmatic man I'm sure that is what he is doing.

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