Sunday, 11 December 2011

O'Neill Will Live To Regret Taking Sunderland Job


I like Martin O'Neill. As part of my job I have been forced to pester him on many occasions to talk about his teams' success and failings from Leicester through to Villa.

He has always been courteous and patient, even when time was short. In a game full of arseholes, he has been a pleasure to deal with.

That's why I shook my head in sadness when he turned up in the managerial graveyard at Sunderland.

No doubt O'Neill sees this as his chance to gain a foothold back in a game that has missed him since he quit Villa.

His checklist was easy to work out. Big club, yes. Plenty of cash to spend, yes. Regular underachievers with potential, yes. A chance to be a hero - you betcha ya.

And to top it all, Sunderland were the side he adored as a kid growing up in Northern Ireland. For O'Neill this was the perfect opportunity.

The same as it was for Roy Keane and Steve Bruce before him. They messed it up. O'Neill is marching down the same road.

Fans are desperate for success having been fed a gruel-like diet of disappointment. They long to stick two fingers up at neighbours Newcastle by flaunting a trophy or two.

But it's a big ask. Sunderland may have a massive loyal set of fans and an owner in Ellis Short with a bob or two in his pocket.

But there are fundamental reasons why neither Keane nor Bruce could achieve their goals.

One of the biggest problems is attracting major stars to move to north-east. The area is one of prettiest in England but lacks the glamour of London or the successful clubs of the north-west.

Big names simply snub a move to the area however much cash is on the table.

And the few fading players that are lured and then enjoy a resurgence quickly head for the exit door once they've tasted a touch of success.

Darren Bent is the most notable example of lads doing well in red and white stripes and then skipping town.

As O'Neill is about to find out, just as Bruce did before him, without a prolific striker there is little chance of success.

And just as daunting for the new boss is the realisation that he needs to ship out a lot of the shambolic signings snapped up by his predecessors.

How Sir Alex Ferguson must have chuckled to himself each time either of his protégée's number flashed up on the mobile.

Frazier Campbell, Liam Miller, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley all made the same trip from Manchester to Sunderland. A list of hand me downs that hardly leaves O'Neill dressing pretty.

So he now needs to mould a winning side out of a pig's ear. It's going to be a long and arduous task. One that is likely to end with another untimely exit by the Irishman.

I just wish he had waited for a job to come along that matched his abilities and ambitions of Champions League football rather than plunging for a post where avoiding relegation is going to be seen as success.

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