Welcome Martin O’Neill. The new manager of Sunderland AFC takes charge with an enormous fund of goodwill from, at a guess, the overwhelming majority of supporters. As results continued to disappoint, Steve Bruce’s post-match e-mails became one of the rods with which he was beaten. Bruce’s Banter has been seen here for the last time. We must wait to see whether O’Neill On Us* – look on it as O’Neill’s Onus if you prefer – is as regular a feature …
So, the new managerial reign begins with the briefest of statements from the incoming boss.
“It’s a very nice feeling to be back in football and to be the manager of Sunderland. It’s a big moment for me. I’d heard about what a good club it was but coming here, seeing the stadium and training ground, I’ve been bowled over. It’s absolutely fantastic.
I hope I can help Sunderland to very successful period. That’s what I’ve come for and that’s my driving ambition.”
O’Neill took Wycombe Wanderers from the Football Conference to the third tier of English football in successive seasons, briefly managed Norwich City and then won promotion to the Premier League as the boss of Leicester City.
Remember that Leicester won the League Cup twice (1997 and 2000) and finishing runners-up in a third final (1999) and also enjoyed four consecutive top 10 finishes.
Moving to Celtic, he achieved the domestic treble in his first season, won three titles in the two-club Scottish Premier, qualified three times for the Champions’ League and reached the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.
At Aston Villa, he led his team to three sixth top finishes running and one League Cup final (as runners up).
On any reckoning, and despite the falling out with Randy Lerner that seems to have prompted his resignation from Villa, it is a highly impressive managerial record.
Salut! Sunderland cared relatively little about the Geordie background of Steve Bruce but judged him on what he did well – his 10th top finish last season deserved recognition despite the serious decline in form that had followed the inexplicable Darren Bent saga – and where he went wrong.
Similarly, we read less than many into the “boyhood Sunderland supporter” line. Everyone in Northern Ireland who likes football selects an English football club to follow, having first made the tribal choice between Rangers and Celtic. His affection for us may have been deeper than that; his achievements for us will matter a whole lot more.
* Come up with a better name for Martin O’Neill’s sayings and if M Salut agrees with you, he will send you a Salut! Sunderland mug. Already considered and ruled out: O’Neill Opines (twee); O’Neill Outpourings (arguably too negative), O’Neill Oh Yes (arguably too positive). Your suggestion need not be alliterative.