'Ron Saunders at 80': McNaught insists 'He is still The Boss!'
It's fair to say that Ron Saunders is now firmly ensconced in family life.
Speaking to him these past few years, his eyes light up whenever mention is made of his children, great-children and great-great-children.
He says his interest in the beautiful game has waned, insisting he only checks the scores on a weekend when he happens to flick on to them with his television remote control.
But, for one weekend only, the fire briefly returned to the great man!
Saunders was a guest of Eamonn Deacy's family at the tribute weekend to the popular player in the 1980-81 squad, who died some months ago.
One of the highlights of the trip to Ireland was a testimonial match between Villa Old Stars and Deacy's former club Galway United - one half played against the current team and another against an amateur eleven.
Ken McNaught asked Saunders the evening before the game if he wanted to sit with his family or take his place in the dugout as manager of Villa once again.
Saunders elected to spend the afternoon with his nearest-and-dearest.
However, the next morning, McNaught took a phonecall from Saunders.
He said: "It was clearly too much of an opportunity to say no to.
"He rang back to say: "I'll look after the team." Within six hours, I'd appointed Shaun Teale and sacked him. But he didn't mind - it was Ron Saunders!
"He was still the same. He still wants to win things and he still wants players to do the right things out on the pitch.
"At half-time at Eamonn's testimonial, we went back to the dressing room for a cup of tea and all of a sudden Ron opened the door and stepped in.
"The lads who played under him automatically shut up. The younger lads kept on chatting but they slowly and surely got the message that the floor was Ron's!
"Ron stood there, waited for silence and tore into us. He was saying: "You're not closing people down! My grandkids have got better control that you out there!"
"I looked at Tony Morley and he looked at me and I said: "He's serious you know, deadly serious!"
"Eventually he lightened up. He smiled and said: "If it doesn't improve in the second half, I'm resigning!"
"It was great to see him doing that. He was glowing being with us again. He loved being in the dugout too."
As you can see, the presence of Saunders still inspires respect from those who worked for him.
It's just a shame that connection in claret and blue didn't last longer, Saunders resigning prior to the European Cup win after a board dispute over his contract.
It's a loss felt by his former players.
McNaught says he's the best ever in terms of managers he's worked under and the popular Scot, now an AVTV summariser, insists Villa would have won "lots more" if Saunders had stayed.
He added: "I have nothing but praise for him. He was definitely the greatest manager I ever worked under - no doubt.
"As a man-manager he was fantastic. He would get inside your head and your mind to get the very best out of you.
"I was very fortunate in that most of the time I was in his good books. I'd have hated to have been in his bad books. He always pushed on you that as a player you had to win things, winning was everything.
"When I first arrived, it's well documented that I didn't get off to the best of starts. I replaced a favourite in Chris Nicholl, who was also the captain.
"But Ron helped me through it. He might have left me out of the team but he stuck with me. I developed a good rapport with him because he helped me get through the bad times. I wanted to repay him on the park.
"He's set the benchmark for Villa managers. He ran the team so well that even when we left, we still went on to win things.
"He was there when we won the title and it was his team that won the European Cup. Tony was his assistant and he was a clever man. He realised that the players he had on board at the time were good enough to go and win things, even after Ron had left.
"I think after the European Cup win it was five or six years and then Villa were relegated. There's no chance that would have happened under Ron.
"I think we would have gone on to win more League Championships, League Cups, FA Cups and European Cups if Ron had stayed. There's no doubt about that in my mind."
Make sure you're here to roar on the lads against Manchester United.
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