It is not quite official. But all the signs are that Martin O’Neill, famously a boyhood supporter of Sunderland, will soon be confirmed – and not for the first time of asking – as our manager. Pete Sixsmith climbs on to his soapbox to offer a hearty, if premature welcome; Salut! Sunderland readers will probably beat M Salut to the news when it formally comes ..
So it looks as if the heart has won and we are going to appoint Martin O’Neill as the 28th Sunderland manager (including “caretakers”) in my 50 years as a supporter. He joins an auspicious group alongside the likes of Bob Stokoe, Peter Reid and Alan Brown – and also those who had less auspicious times in the Roker/SoL hot seat in Mick Buxton, Ian McColl and Howard Wilkinson.
For many Sunderland fans, it is an appointment made in heaven. Pete Horan texted “I can feel the buzz coming back” while friends at the Brandon v Thornaby game last night were enthusiastic about bringing a top class manager into the club for the first time since 1985 and Lawr .. well, let’s forget that one.
What are we going to get for Ellis Short’s money? O’Neill is a motivator, a man with European experience and a man who has won trophies and guided his teams to the upper echelons of the Premier League. He has a reputation for being animated, for being touchy with journalists and TV reporters and for not suffering fools gladly – so bang go my chances of an interview with him.
He has principles as his walk outs from Norwich City and Aston Villa show. Short may well find him pricklier than Bruce, who came across as a manager who knew what was good for him in potential conflict with the owner. Would O’Neill have let Gyan go at the last minute? I doubt it. Would O’Neill have really pushed for the money to bring in a winger? I think he would.
He now has Bruce’s squad to work with until January. The always reliable Pat Murphy (who must double as O’Neill’s agent) has said a number of times that O’Neill does not need a shed load of money and will work within reasonable financial parameters; something which he felt was missing with Randy Lerner at Villa Park.
There are some decent players to work with, but there is an imbalance. There are too many hard working midfield players; we have insufficient flair. No out and out wingers to get the ball across to the one genuine forward we seem to possess.
The defence seems solid, although O’Shea will need to get out of the comfort zone he appears to inhabit. He has been the most disappointing of the summer signings as I expected a lot more from him both in terms of ability and leadership. I am as sure as I can be that there will be no comfort zones under O’Neill.
He has a chance to assess the squad on Sunday. They need to impress. Keith Scott reminded me of the situation when Keane was appointed after the Southend/Bury debacles. Players who had been disinterested and offhand suddenly gave themselves a shake and beat a team that were near the top of the league. Keith said that they had been cheating Quinn and that if they could play as well as that when a new manager was watching, why hadn’t they done it previously?
Should we perform at Wolves, Steve Bruce may well be asking the same question.