This time last season, I was half-heartedly arguing against sacking Steve Bruce. I wanted what Ellis Short, the owner, ultimately gave him: until the last game of November to sort out the mess. On Nov 26 2011 we slumped to that awful home defeat to Wigan and he was out. Now, the voices opposed to Martin O’Neill are growing louder.
If I apply a similar approach as with Bruce, MoN needs to have turned things around by the time we finish the QPR home game on Nov 27. I believe he can and will, though the recovery may have to wait until after the looming Everton and Fulham away games and start with the two home ties directly afterwards. More broadly, I am against a kneejerk response to the worrying start to the season …
At the Villa Heroes and Villains online forum, many of the verdicts on Martin O’Neill have been a lot sterner.
Admirers can point to three top six finishes, a League Cup final Villa might have won but for a refereeing howler and a taste (admittedly sour) of continental travel. They see it differently, saying he bought rather than built loyalty and success (doesn’t every top manager?) and then stormed off, leaving the club saddled with overpaid, underachieving players.
Let us see how this debate develops. In my ESPN Soccernet account of Saturday and its wider meaning, I said this:
The disconsolate fans calling or texting a local radio phone-in on Saturday evening were right to be angry, although wrong to claim – as some did – that this was the worst Sunderland team in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. Their memories must have shut out the 15- and 19-point relegation seasons.
… it makes no sense whatsoever to clamour for O’Neill’s head. A respectable return from the coming cluster of games would work wonders for morale – for the supporters as for the squad.
Read the whole article at http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/521?cc=5739#. I should add that having reported O’Neill’s suggestion that it was unrealistic to judge the season at this early stage, I concluded with these words: “I suspect O’Neill will be even less keen to be judged on the season as it stands when the players leave the field at Craven Cottage.”
But then I took at look at some Villa comments before posting this one of my own answering his critics at Heroes and Villains: “I have not lost faith in MoN and still feel a lot of you are being harsh. If what you had during his time at Villa Park was failure or underachievement, I’d like a bit of it to come our way, too … He must have done something right.”
One contributor said: “There were many, many people who thought the sun shone out of his backside, and those not joining in with the adulation and who pointed out the stupidity of the majority of his signings plus his dull football suffered dog’s abuse.” Another, to give the other side, thought “MoN’s time with us produced more positives than negatives and given time I think he’ll get it right”.
But the best-argued response came from an Edinburgh-based Villa supporter Jacob Howarth, or Montbert as he signs himself at the site, which I reproduce in full:
The thing about MON is that he needs to spend far greater-than-average money in order to achieve slightly better-than-average results. This is mostly because he has to be the least imaginative manager in the transfer market out there (seriously, I rate McLeish above him – McLeish signs some good players, just has no idea what to do with them). He will willingly pay the absurd premiums for flavour-of-the-month British or British-based names, never seeming to care about the amount of money he’s wasting. He spent £50m across two summers building two different defences for us, sprees which included £10m on Curtis Davies, £8m on Cuellar and £6-7m on Stephen Warnock. That’s just one example.
Also, he has this stubborn streak which seems too have become an utter unwillingness to learn or deviate at all from anything he’s ever done. His football – always functional and limited – now just looks absurdly anachronistic. If he can’t spend £100m on it, his style will yield little besides sterility. But he will never change, he will never attempt to modernise his style, he will never value technique as much as industry or intelligence as much as pace and power. He’ll certainly not buy from Abroad, as Abroad is the scary place where these things are valued. He is, or at least has been, an inspirational man-manager, but a lot of that comes from the fact that he never rotates – meaning half the squad end up hating him for never giving them a chance, no matter how out-of-form his favourite in the first XI is – and that his training regime is minimal at best – there was a recent revelation that our players would sometimes not be asked to train until Thursdays during the week. So, if you think this is bad, wait for the customary March burnout, where his overplayed, undertrained favourites will be exhausted beyond the reach of man-management rescues. And don’t expect him to change the team after that either.
I feel for you, I really do, because I was one of the saps on here who didn’t see it at the time. MON is very good at creating a kind of club bubble – one of his better traits because, as with Mourinho and Ferguson, it breeds loyalty and togetherness – and I couldn’t see the stubbornness for what it was. I wasn’t quite as blind as some – I could see the limited football, the unimaginative signings – but for some reason convinced myself that he was going to change. Some on here saw through the mask though, and more power to them, and your fans booing, for all that I don’t get onside with that sort of thing, shows that a good number of them have seen the Emperor’s nudity early on, and for your sake I hope that drives him out earlier than he would usually flounce off.
Opinion is the lifeblood of football debate. But it is is noticeable how many detractors MoN seems to have, and how few defenders, among the Heroes and Villains readership.
I’d like to hear more, from both sides …