Salut! Sunderland is relieved to hear criminal damage charges will not be pressed against Nicklas Bendtner; we hope Lee Cattermole can now prove his innocence. Further comment is probably inappropriate so let us instead enjoy some thoughts from an expert source on our manager’s own (wholly blameless) brushes with the law …
Newspapers used to get veteran – ie old – reporters to “re-open their notebooks” and tell once more headline-grabbing crime stories from the past. Maybe Martin O’Neill and I should get together; he may not be an old reporter but we both seem to have spent chunks of time lurking at the back of courts listening to criminal trials.
For this information I am indebted to the excellent Gabriele Marcotti, whose astute football analysis and convincing delivery have often graced radio, especially – in my experience – TalkSport though he pops up on BBC, too.
And this insight into our manager’s fascination with judicial proceedings (I appreciate others may have known of it already) appears in an article by Marcotti published – where else? – in the Wall Street Journal. This corner of the Murdoch empire busies itself with SAFC about as much as Leeds fans drawn to Salut! Sunderland manage to get beyond a disagreeable headline.
The piece is mainly an appraisal of the outstanding results MON has achieved at Sunderland since taking over as manager in December. More of that in a minute.
But on the question of murder and mystery, Marcotti – “born in Italy and now based in London, he was raised in Chicago, Poland, Germany, New York and Japan” and is “fluent in Italian, English, German and Japanese”, says his Wikipedia entry – has this to say:
… for all his histrionics during games, O’Neill actually comes across as a fairly bookish and measured guy. He tends to speaks in complete sentences. While most managers in England like to unwind with pedestrian pursuits like golf, O’Neill has long devoted a chunk of his spare time to studying crimes and criminals. Even as a player, O’Neill, a former law student, was obsessed with the criminal mind, said Chris Nicholl, his former roommate with Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup, in a recent newspaper interview.
“He used to bring in these folders from Nottingham Police,” said Nicholl, who added that O’Neill would sit in on trials and visit crime scenes. “He was fascinated by criminals.”
When the great man summons Monsieur Salut, I’ll offer my reminiscences on assorted IRA and loyalist trials in London, Dublin and Belfast; the Guinness fraud; Jeremy Thorpe up for (and cleared of) incitement to murder and the Broadwater Farm case plus the prosecutions of people like the LSD drugs gang smashed by “Operation Julie”, the Cambridge Rapist and numerous half-forgotten murderers in the UK and abroad. Then we can move on to celebrated libel cases, inquiries and inquests if he has the appetite.
And then let’s see what Martin can tell me about in return.
He won’t waste time asking my thoughts on the way the team is playing. Contrasting his record of wins and points, with the same bunch of players available to Steve Bruce, Marcotti says: “Had he been there at the start of the season — and had the club continued at that clip — Sunderland would be on its way to a place in next season’s Champions League, a tremendous achievement for a mid-sized club from an impoverished part of England that had lost money in each of the past four seasons.”
Marcotti does not buy the media theory that O’Neill’s progress is attributable to his passion and enthusiasm. Instead, he feels O’Neill is doing a better job than Bruce “because he’s better at the nuts and bolts of the job: working with his players in training to make them perform better during games”.
And his style is even a departure from his previous way, says Marcotti. At Villa, he chalked up a net spend of more than $130 million in the first four seasons, tripling the wages bill but also bringing three consecutive sixth-place finishes (progress that came to an abrupt halt when the owner Randy Lerner tried to cut the outlay and O’Neill promptly resigned”.
So could MON succeed similarly on a shoestring? “The answer, so far, appears to be a resounding yes,” says Marcotti. “It also prompts another question: why are clubs so quick to give a new manager a big transfer budget? Judging from O’Neill’s experience, if the new boss represents an upgrade over the old one, simply putting him in charge should yield better results. O’Neill was hailed as a genius for much of his tenure at Villa by those who only looked at the league table and not at the club’s finances. But you can’t help but wonder how many other managers would have achieved comparable results with such enormous spending.
“Certainly his work at Sunderland— which has consisted almost entirely of actually coaching incumbent players rather than signing new ones— seems far worthier of the genius tag.”