Crosstalk: Celtic tell Salut! Sunderland to be patient with Martin O’Neill

Jake on the art of communication

Stephen Goldsmith writes: that defeat on Tuesday was hard to take. Not because it was ‘Boro, as I don’t particularly class this fixture as any sort of grudge match. There was a spell – when Bryan Robson was in charge – where it felt like a derby match, but it hadn’t previous to that and it hasn’t since. Not to me anyway.

No, the disappointment was the manner of the defeat. The toothless and uncreative performances in the league this season can be glossed over by the fact that we have lost only once – to the champions – and that our draws aren’t individually bad results. Spread those fixtures out over the season and drawing them seems reasonable. Tuesday night wasn’t good enough, however. Not at all.

For the first time since O’Neill came to the club, there are murmurs of discontent from the terraces and Saturday’s match against his former club – Aston Villa – becomes a must win game of sorts.

Not a must win game in that O’Neill’s job is hanging in the balance here, but certainly a victory is needed as some sort of sign that we aren’t to be dragged into a relegation scrap. We also need reassuring that we have it in us to create chances. Hell, even a 3-3 draw might please me!

How all those Villa fans would love their side to turn us over and tell us on here, as they love to do, that they were right all along and O’Neill’s football is the anti-Christ blah blah blah. The gaffer’s CV has to count for something, however, and if ever there was a time for the fans to show a little faith it is now.

So, in an act of faith restoration, I decided to have a quick chat with Kevin Graham, editor of The Celtic Blog and let him tell us that everything will be all right. Everything will be all right won’t it Kevin? Please just stroke our heads and tell us in a soft voice that it will be alright. To enter this chat with a positive mood, sum up his impact at Celtic for us.

Revolutionary. Saviour. Life changing. He turned the club onto the right path after years of near misses and poor management. Took the foundations that were already laid, turned around some players that looked lost and used his budget magnificently. Everything he touched turned to gold.

The Scottish game was a different place then. It was awash with money and Rangers were a bemoth juggernaut that were spending freely. A policy that would eventually see them liquidate and die, which I would recommend you hope to happen to your most hated rivals as it’s quite frankly hilarious.

We had been in their slipstream for 10 years. He came and challenged them head on. Stood up to them. I don’t think anyone else could have done it. His star was on the rise. His stock was never higher. It was a case of right place, right time, right club.


I decided a Celtic fan would be better to talk about our current boss as we’re sick of hearing about his apparent downfalls from bitter Villa fans – indeed we are constantly being told by them that his style of football is negative. That said, I do have Celtic supporting friends who also warned me it wouldn’t be pretty when he was unveiled as manager. He has certainly favoured the other team to have the ball, only to then counter with pace. That worked for the main part last season but now as wins are beginning to be hard to come by, some people are starting to have a quiet moan that his methods aren’t working. How was his general style at Celtic?

I have never got criticism of his style at Celtic. While it was never Tika Taka, any team that contained Sutton, Larsson, Hartson being serviced by a flying Alan Thompson and Dider Agathe with Stan Petrov (who was an attacking midfielder before his move to Villa) couldn’t be labelled as negative. Our run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 certainly wasn’t negative. Winning a SPL record 34 games wasn’t negative.

His last season with us was dreadful. The football was some of the worst I have seen but that was mainly due to an aging team and manager showing too much loyalty to old warhorses who were done. Also, the loss of Larsson was a major factor. Yes, he liked to keep things tight. Likes a certain style of player but I wouldn’t level the not pretty tag at the majority of his time with us.

I think with Leicester, Villa and with yourselves the fact that he is in a far better league than the SPL forces his hand more.

Ok, so getting deep into that there is a couple of points to make. You’re right in that this is the Premier League, and we don’t have the same status amongst our peers and competitors as you do up there. I’ll tell you immediately what worries me from your last answer – it’s this niggling thought that while you had three years or so of good stuff before the awful football kicked in, we had around three months of it. It also doesn’t appear he had to turn around a bad spell while he was there. And the flying wingers you mentioned were supposed to be McClean and Johnson this year for us – but it just isn’t happening. I actually have a lot of belief in Martin, so to say this is a faith restoration exercise may be less accurate then maybe stating it as some sort of faith maintenance project. Looking from the outside in, should we be worried with the way we are playing?

I recently watched your game against Newcastle and I must admit that it was reminiscent of his last season with us. Is he maybe now too stubborn and hasn’t moved with the times? Is his type of player now not what the modern day needs?

Saint Martin has a habit of getting teams to the highest level that is possible for them. He has an impeccable track record of doing this. I suppose it depends what the Sunderland fans feel is their highest level. As an outsider looking in I see Sunderland as a mid table EPL club. Martin will achieve that.

That’s a fair assessment but I suppose that we were kind of hoping he could kick us on a tiny bit further than mid table – maybe to the level that Everton find themselves at. I don’t think that’s too ambitious. Do you keep an eye on us as a club now due to his presence?

I will be watching Martin’s teams until he gives up football. In fact, a few of us are talking about coming down for a game to pay homage to the man! I think Sunderland have had a poor start, but they are better than 14th place and going out the cup to ‘Boro. After a blistering start he seems to have hit a bit of a wall but…’s early days yet…he will come good.

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I like to think of these crosstalk features as a bit of cross-club banter in some sort of virtual pub – so with that in mind I still have half a virtual beer left and rather than say goodbye there, I just have to ask you about Antony Stokes. When we signed this 18 year old he was tipped for big things, he had turned down a move to Celtic to come and play for Roy Keane. He spent more time in the city centre pubs and nightclubs than on the field here and was a bit of a let down, though he was still a kid. How’s he doing there?

He’s currently injured and has been out since the start of the season. He has been fantastic for us since signing from Hibs but there is always the nagging doubt that he should be doing better. That he was talent to burn but just can’t be bothered at times. Our manager has the habit of leaving him out of big games giving the impression that he wasn’t trusted. That’s strange considering that he has waded in with over 20 goals per season and also tops the assist charts.

I think we are his last chance before he ends up roaming around the Championship or League 1.

And on the aggressive bearded bloke from Cork himself, it’s easy to forget that Roy Keane played a big part in galvanizing Sunderland. He helped establish us (finally) as a steady Premier League club. He’s struggling to find work now because of the negative side of his managerial methods, of which there are lots. Do you ever see him returning to his beloved Celtic in a managerial capacity? And is that something you would hope for?

Hell, no! I can only see Neil Lennon being our manager for many, many, many years to come. Plus I don’t think Mr Keane will work in football again. I understand the job he did for Sunderland but too much water has passed under the bridge since for any sensible chairmen to take the risk.


Kevin Graham on Kevin Graham: An over 30 Celtic fan who has been going to watch them since 1983. Been blogging about Celtic since 2005 and have been the editor of The Celtic Blog since 2009. I wish I could attend more away games and I have a massive man crush on Joe Ledley.

Follow Stephen Goldsmith on twitter: goldys_logic

10 thoughts on “Crosstalk: Celtic tell Salut! Sunderland to be patient with Martin O’Neill”

  1. *abysmal, I paid attention to Sunderland today after writing a few comments on here, what i saw was shocking, I would sack MON yesterday never-mind now, 13 shots on target all season is so far from unacceptable its dis-believable. When you look at the sides just promoted who came up and other sides in the league for much less a time period than Sunderland it is shocking. You will be in the bottom five this season if you stay with MON and maybe at the wrong end of such a five, that was a hideous performance in a must win game against what should be lesser opponents. Disgraceful and there is no way out of it, at the end of the season he may rally the troops with enough fight to just about beat relegation against those with a little less hope but that is it, get rid of this dinosaur!

  2. Managers do not often win matches. They guide and train players, they motivate and just occasionally light fires under those who fail to perform up to their true potential.

    Tactics may be more defensive than we would like but they were not throughout the whole of last year, when we had some cracking performances, so there may be a reason. In my opinion the reason is evident and that is the players are not giving of their best and that there are this year a multiplicity of reasons why they were not all fit and have been unable to click together. It is however only the players that can put that right and certainly for a couple of seasons we should get off the managers back.

    • Couldn’t disagree with this more, a managers role is absolutely vital it’s his job to ensure all the stuff you mentioned above happens both when he signs players and when he is in charge of them. Also tactics count for a hell of a lot and when people get used to your tactical approach and know how to stop it, which is pretty much given the lack of quality in your side, match them for effort and we’ll be ok or stop them getting wide as they’re often a bit clueless as a reuslt, then this falls under the managers remit to change things to get results. Players of course count for a lot too a manager can’t go on the pitch but to absolve him from blame for long term performances problems is I’m sorry but bordering on idiotic

  3. As a lifelong Celtic fan I have to say I don’t think MON is anywhere near the manager he’s cracked up to be. I think he has his plus points but I don’t feel he’s capable of bringing class and creativity to a team unless it already existed when he arrived. When he came to Celtic we already had the likes of Larsson, Petrov and Moravcik three of our best ever players, certainly in the modern era. Although MON did bring in some other players who were fantastic and just as good as the above players they were as good but in a very different way which is were i think MON faults lie. I’m sure everyone is aware he favours bringing in the big physical hard working players and certainly with Celtic he gave us some gems in Sutton,Hartson and Thompson. Trying to look at it objectively which is a bit of an impossible task I feel that without the likes of Larsson,Petrov and Moravcik already being there, MON wouldn’t have had anywhere near the level of success he had with Celtic. Any team would struggle of course if such players were removed from the team, especially a Larsson and maybe it’s unfair to fault MON for not bringing in a player of that calibre but the point is that someone else did. I feel MON tactically isn’t very astute, his plus points revolve more around firing the team up so they work harder than the opposition but this can only get you so far,especially now in the ever evolving premier league were teams are adopting a more European approach domestically. I believe MON is lacking in a few areas and I see him as a great manager to get struggling relegation threatened teams to fight hard and beat the drop in unlikely circumstances but I don’t ever see him as being more than a mid table manager. I think his footballing philosophy is lacking in regards to bringing creative players into a team other than those who are big strong and hard working. I’d like to see him bring one or two players into a side with a bit more guile and creativity but I just don’t think he’s very capable of it. During his later years at Celtic he tried this with the likes of Juninho but he was never able to set the side up right to introduce such a player. He did a great job at Celtic and put Celtic back on the European stage and gave me some of my best ever nights as a Celtic fan and I’m extremely grateful to him for that but I also can’t ignore that he signed some of the worst ever players I’ve seen in a Celtic jersey when times were tight financially (stephen pearson,ulrik larsson,david fernandez,momo sylla etc) He also had a few seasons were the team despite its talents did fail domestically and I think its generally accepted he let players linger around too long on long contracts tying up funds that would’ve been better freshening up the side. All in all he was a great success at Celtic but i feel circumstances played a big role in that as well as the talents he brought, it was a job perfectly suited to him at the time especially with our fantastic and huge support desperate for success, the noise and atmosphere and buzz helped create a tidal wave or snowball affect with our success. That mixed with the likes of Larsson already being there and MONs inspirational management style and his ability to bring in bigger stronger players I feel were the main reasons for his success at Celtic but it did not last for ever and eventually weaknesses showed which in the circumstances he seemed unable to be able to repair and I feel it was the right time for him to leave Celtic Park. When he left Celtic to be honest he left us in a bit of a state, I feel this was the same when he left Villa and Leicester and you only have to look at the fortunes of the clubs after he left to see this. Why this has been the case I am not so sure, tying up players on long contracts who are past their sell by date?, having to many big hard working players maybe a bit too much on the donkeyish side that other managers struggle to work with? Or perhaps I’m being too harsh and maybe teams struggle without him due to his quality? I don’t know but my honest opinion is that it’s more likely to be a mix of the former two as opposed to the latter. I think with Sunderland as with Villa he seems to go on strange runs that are not consistent, unbeaten in 11 seems all to easily to turn into no wins in the following 11. There are just too many erratic runs like this for me to consider him the great manager he’s sometimes portrayed as. As regards whether he’s the right man for the Sunderland job I couldn’t really say as I don’t watch all of your games the way I would with Celtic, occasionally I’ll see one or two live on the tele and then it’s usually just match of the day for me, so i’ll leave it to you all to decide, the above is just some thoughts on MON from a Celtic fans view, trying to look at it objectively.

  4. Keep the faith in MON, sure his last season here at Celtic was’nt the best, but lest not forget that the great man was caring for his ill wife, and her having that awful disease would affect his life way beyond football. I’m sure SAFC will be sitting somewhere mid-table come the end of your season.

  5. O’Neill has now won only ONE Premier League match since March 24th! Over seven months! And all we have to show for it is a lucky one goal win against ten men Wigan who were unlucky not to win with just the 10 men…

    O’Neill somehow seems to have loads of mates in the media so criticism has been muted, sadly though I can see his days are numbered…….hes out of his depth and its a results game! Act quick before he takes us down!

  6. A very thoughtful article.

    One of the things that disappoints me about us SAFC fans is that we expect too much too quickly, and at the first sign of problems get a bit twitchy and too eager to voice our concerns. Sack th board, sack the manager etc.

    Have patience. I believe that MON will establish us as an upper mid table team along the lines of Everton.I do not believe that he or any other manager, without the owner investing of a ridiculous amount of money, will get us into the top six. We might flirt with 7th and 8th positions but that’s about it; and that would be great, winning more often than losing by playing entertaining football .

    • Flirting with 7th and 8th is fine with me. I have faith also, Michael. The attacking players have to start clicking soon. Surely.

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