O’Neill One Year On: (3) trivial pursuit or action man this Christmas?

Jake gets the gaffer's point. Do the players?

In the third of our series looking back at Martin O’Neill’s first term in office, (visit the home page salutsunderland.com to see the first two) we welcome a new contributor, Gareth Barker who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past and of Christmas yet to come. Pete Sixsmith will, in his own inimitable style, round off our offerings later today but before that let Gareth explain why Martin O’Neill may just be the gift we always wanted.

As we approach Christmas, it takes me back to my childhood. I wanted the new thing every year, like every kid at school. Now, as an adult, the only thing that gets near the Christmas morning excitement is when my beloved Sunderland finally deliver and bring in a top player, or in the case of Martin O’Neill, a top manager.

Last year all SAFC fans’ Christmas present came early, when Niall and Ellis played Santa and delivered us the gift that we’d always wanted. A year on, we approach Christmas and some amongst our ranks are hankering for a new managerial present.

The question is – should Martin be relegated to a box under the bed, to gather dust with a load of other gifts we lost interest in? Or should he become our ‘go to’ childhood gift? The one that, long after being replaced, still has pride of place on top of the toy box?

I’d be inclined to go with the latter.

When Martin arrived just over a year ago, we were in a severe situation. A few boos rang out as we crashed to a catastrophic home defeat to Wigan, not as many as Mr O’Neill’s predecessor would have you believe however, and it was time for a change.

People argue that we are in a worse situation now than when Steve Bruce left the club. We are in a pretty much identical league position and have had a pretty dreadful run of results that ran out the back of last season, and into this.

In my opinion, the manager can only do so much. A lot of responsibility for our current predicament falls at the door of the players. They need to take pride in their performances, and Rose aside this season, I don’t think they have been doing that.

People level accusations of lack of ideas at O’Neill, a stubbornness some say.

I like to see a man with his own ideas in charge, who isn’t easily swayed by fan or press pressure. We all have different opinions on the game, but he is the one who has to implement and make decisions and he takes the praise and flak that comes with that.

His tactics haven’t changed since he got here, and nobody complained when we lost one or two games in 15 when he first came in and saved our season.

Jake hopes the red kryptonite effect will wear off soon

There are often what I would call lazy suggestions made as tactical offerings. ‘Go 4-4-2’ many cry. Well, our one striker barely sees any of the ball when we’re not performing. What makes anyone think that having two strikers not seeing any of the ball will make a blind bit of difference to our current poor form?

At the moment, the players just are not working hard enough on the pitch. We have seen that when they do, they produce a performance worthy of themselves and the manager. The second half against Norwich was a prime example of this. O’Neill didn’t change the way we play in that second half, but we created ample goal scoring opportunities and could have run out 5-2 winners had we taken them.

In stark contrast, the QPR game was a prime example of players ‘bottling’ the occasion. Talk of ‘Arry giving them an extra yard was presented as an argument by some, including our own players. However, their new managerial appointment shouldn’t affect our ability to move off the ball. Non of the players were getting themselves involved in the game. This is down to them, not the manager.

People will say that Martin needs to motivate the players, but the players themselves are not children. They should be taking pride in their work and showing that spirit and desire unconditionally.

Martin needs time to build a team. I don’t think many SAFC fans would have turned down the chance to bring Johnson in, or Fletcher. He identified areas we needed to improve and brought those players in. Johnson has yet to get going, and Fletcher has been a bright spot in an otherwise filthy start to the season.

He has brought Rose (who has been a revelation) to the club and solved a problem that we’ve had for nigh on 10 years. We finally have a proper left back. The real test will be getting him to sign on permanently.

I believe that Ellis and Martin are both working towards a long term goal. We need to be building bit by bit, window to window, bringing in players and creating a team that will be consistent for the next few years and possibly beyond.

Courtesy of A Love Supreme

If you look at a side like Everton, they usually have the same core 7-8 players every time we play them. They also have the same manager. Every time we put a side out against them it’s almost a completely different 11 players every 18-24 months. Everton don’t spend a lot. But they have a unit of solid Premier League players who know how the team plays as a collective and as individuals. It’s no surprise to see Pienaar return to form at Everton after a dismal stint at Tottenham. He knows his place there, as does every other player in that side.

It also doesn’t help to have a rolling 24 hour sports news channel defining what success at each and every football club is, with little knowledge of what goes on at those clubs on a daily basis. Opinions are thrown about that don’t really mean anything, based on people’s opinions, which are derived from that person watching two minutes of highlights whilst they’re sorting their tie out before going on air to bellow incoherently about ‘worldies’ and ‘beans on toast’.

These comments get into people’s heads and create pressure that really shouldn’t exist. Some of the pressure on O’Neill comes from results, sure. But really, we should be looking past the instant gratification of ‘success’ that is outlined by Billy Pundit and see that we have a keeper in O’Neill. He is a man with a proven track record, and he needs time to prove it at Sunderland.

Let’s give Martin the chance to become that cherished gift we really did always want, I’m sure he’ll give us some memories to keep us warm at night just like our favourite teddy bear.

*** See the full O’Neill One Year On series at this link: https://safc.blog/category/martin-oneill-one-year-on/

Gareth in a dugout somewhere

Gareth Barker on himself: I am a passionate football fan, and a season ticket holder since 1997. Born and bred in Sunderland and nearing 30, I live in hope that I’ll get to see us win something like my Dad did in 1973. Husband, graduate x2 and currently working in media. Big fan of food and drink and try my best to be merry.

Twitter: @GarethBarkerTDE

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18 thoughts on “O’Neill One Year On: (3) trivial pursuit or action man this Christmas?”

  1. Well Plan B, I think that more or less amounts to the same thing that JC was saying.

    Be careful what you wish for Plan B because I used to go and watch Leicester during MON’s time there. A mate of mine ended up partly disabled and I used to go with him to Filbert Street as his “minder” some times.

    His imports were pretty horrendous. Zeljko Kalac, the giant keeper who was a joke. The other one who arrived with a great reputation but was awful was Arnar Gunlaugsson He did well for Bolton but less well for Leicester. He tends to like great big blokes, or at least used to (e.g Steve Walsh, Matt Elliott), but we haven’t even got any of those.

  2. I can sort of understand what Crossan said, though for me we seem to buy the kind of players the top clubs aren’t interested in, and I’m not talking quality but more the model of player here, we just don’t buy into modern thinking. The top clubs look for athletes, we seem to buy mostly british, slower, less powerful players. Just look at the signings of the last few managers.

    I was disappointed to see Diame and Nzonzi end up elsewhere in the summer. If there are similiar players out there I’d love to see O’Neill bring them in (or just one), then we’d be in a position to see which midfielders we could let go. If it’s a case that he simply doesn’t rate a lot of squad members, he has to tell them and raise funds for us to buy quality. Fingers crossed he has something up his sleeve.

  3. Plan B. Great post which hits the nail on the head. I’ve mentioned this idea of all the eggs being in one basket (Fletch and Johnson) whereas the rest of his acquisitions are at the other end of the scale. Maybe MON’s just misjudged what he thought we could get away with. Maybe the long term plan is to secure two long term high quality players in each window over the next 18 months.

    Some time ago Johnny Crossan did an interview with Colin and he made the point that Sunderland have “never ever gone out and signed a couple of really good players.” By and large this is true and has been for decades. We have always been content with the manager signing more journeymen or middle of the road players and not top performers. The problem with signing the top players is that there simply isn’t enough cash left over to do what is necessary elsewhere and which means that you end up with the Cuellar, Saha and McFaddens of this world.

    I very much doubt that if another 30 million had been available that he would have signed these three or that he would have take Danny Rose as a loanee if he could have bought him.

    Possibly the problem is that the squad consists of a lot of players who are even more mediocre than he realised.

    None of these possibilities eradicate the clear impression that tactics and selections are so unimaginative and that for whatever reason some players have been frozen out who could have helped to shake up the mix in a poorly performing team and have injected something pehaps less predictable than what we’ve been seeing for months.

    There are players out there that we could bring in during the window who I feel could make a significant difference to this side. Ironically I believe that O’Neill sold them both when he was at Villa. The players I’m talking about are Whittingham from Cardiff and Maloney at Wigan. I doubt whether we’ll see either of them in red and white in the New Year 🙂

  4. I’ve read the article again and the basic message seems to be just that. The role of a football manager is that he is on the whole responsible for team performance, which is surely a basic perennial truth. Why else would you pay someone 3m per year to do it? They exist to encourage, rollick, remind, drop or promote their players when necessary lets not pretend otherwise. Our lads are capable of more, we’ve seen them all play better and if they did indeed perform like the second half on sunday a lot more often than not, we’d be in a much better position. Also the manager would quite rightly be getting praise and we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place. Also, he chose to do very little in two transfer windows, when it has been obvious for some time that some of this lot don’t offer enough for us to progress. You have to grab the bull by the horns in football, and enter each transfer window with an ambition to be in the best state possible when it closes, or as we’re seeing now, those that dither rarely get rewarded.

  5. So basically O’Neill is great, saved us last year all down to himself, now things are going wrong it’s all the players fault?

    • I don’t believe I said that.

      I highlighted the point that success at the club is a collective effort of management and players.

      Do you think the players are playing to their capabilities now?

      These are the same players that kept us up too.

      The players need to take responsibility for themselves in games, that’s massively evident in the contrasting 1st and 2nd half performances against Norwich.

      In the 1st half they didn’t. In the 2nd half, they did.

  6. The last thing the SoL needs is a reputation for having a managerial revolving door. If O’Neill was let go, what kind of a replacement could we hope to find with the unspoken promise/threat: “You’ve got a year to turn things around, otherwise…” No one of any calibre would come near the place with that hanging over his head. I’m sure MON wouldn’t have come on that understanding.
    As someone (I forget who, sorry) commented the other day, “You don’t get relegated in December.” We may not be in the healthiest position but we’re by no means dead yet.

  7. Since the season began ‘the sack’ according to the press has awaited Chris Hughton then Paul Lambert followed by Nigel Adkins.It’s obvious that lt is Martin O’Neill’s turn to fill up journalistic space.Obviously any manager of a side in the bottom six is under pressure but let’s not overdo it.The season still has twenty-odd games to go.As Gareth suggests we should keep things in perspective.

  8. Spot on, Gareth. O’Neill needs at least 2 more transfer windows to make a real difference. We’ve been shite for years, so we can surely wait a while longer to give him that time – AS LONG AS WE DON’T GO DOWN!

    Like you, I’m also blaming the players for underperforming and getting us into this mess. Many of them are simply not good enough, and need replacing, but that isn’t always as easy as some people seem to think. Nevertheless, pretty much the same ones kept us out of trouble last year, and should do it again if they get their fingers out. The comment about movement off the ball (lack of it) is spot on. You don’t need a manager to “motivate” you into running and making space and options for your team-mates. In games like QPR we have been more pedestrian than The Bridges and more stationary than … erm…. Sunderland Station!

    Like Jeremy I wonder about John Robertson. Motivation on its own only goes so far (we saw that with Peter Reid), and the rest is about tactics and the players. I don’t believe O’Neill employs the tactic of telling players to stand still until they get the ball, and then instantly turn back towards their own goal. So I’m blaming the players.

    It should also be remembered that Man Utd fans were moaning about Ferguson after his first year. In fact for about the 4 years it took for him to win a trophy. We can surely give a manager with the CV of O’Neill another year?

    Mick Goulding

  9. Our own deputy editor, Malcolm Dawson, no stranger to the East Midlands, is struggling to place the dugout. Gareth himself says: “I don’t think you’ll ever guess. It’s a small non-league ground in North Notts!”

    My bet is that between them Malcolm and Pete Sixsmith, well on his way to visiting his millionth ground, will produce the answer.

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