Martin O’Neill: I knew him well
Two weeks ago, Martin Hugh Michael O’Neill (yeah I didn’t know either, pretty dull middle names eh?) was appointed as manager of Sunderland, coming out of a 16 month hiatus to save his “boyhood club” (alright Robbie Keane) from the sausage-fingered clutches of Steve Bruce. I have to admit right off the bat that I know bugger all about Sunderland. I’ve never really had any interest in them, although one of my best childhood friends was a fan and took me along to a game once – I don’t remember who they played, but it was in the Quinn/Phillips glory days so it was probably a fun afternoon. The only Sunderland fan I’ve met since once wiped his arse with a sock in Coventry and I can’t think of a Sunderland game I’ve watched start-to-finish in recent years at all. So that’s where I’m at with Sunderland.
Luckily, most people know bugger all about most things, and as a result we’ve developed coping mechanisms so that when given authority we can pretend to know some things about something. Right now I’m using distraction, next I will simply talk about something else, later I will use analogy.
Although I don’t know anything about Sunderland, I do know about Martin O’Neill. As a Leicester fan who came of footballing age and steadily approached sentience during the Golden Age he brought in, he is something of a hero to me. Funny to think of a couple of League Cups and a decent run of mid-table finishes in the Premier League as a Golden Age, but what we often fail to realise with overexposure of Big Clubs and hyping of the Premier and Champions Leagues is that for most clubs, that is as good as it might ever get.
But that’s beside the point. O’Neill was my formative manager; my footballing father. At a time when most kids at my school wanted to score from the halfway line with hair full of Brylcreem, my dream was to hop up and down on the touchline with my tracksuit bottoms tucked into my socks. Somewhere in the world there is footage of him with his arm around me, holding the League Cup together with my football inside it. Shortly afterwards I saw him toss the cup onto the back seat, telling a passing woman that he was going to sleep with it.
But that’s all in the past. Between then and now he’s had great success at his other Boyhood Club Celtic, and spent not far off £10m on Nigel Reo-Coker at Aston Villa. However I didn’t follow those periods as closely for obvious reasons, so I’m going to look at his time at Leicester to make some glib analogies to see what the future might hold for him at Sunderland.
The first point of comparison is money. Since his appointment, pundits have speculated over whether O’Neill is capable of winning a football match without chucking £30m notes onto the pitch at 5 minute intervals. What has not come up once is that the central midfield three of Muzzy Izzet, Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage cost less than £2m to assemble. I am almost certainly wrong but I can’t recall a player under his tenure who cost more than the £1.2m paid for Steve Claridge. Yeah, he spunked a load of money at Celtic and Villa, but that was because he could. You know how it is in a job, money is just an abstract figure to be chucked around, and as long as the guy who owns it all is cool with it then you can just carry on. That may be roughly how the banking crisis came about but hey, we had it fairly good for a bit didn’t we? And that’s what football’s about. If there’s no money to spend then he probably won’t spend loads of money. There probably will be some though, or I doubt he would’ve signed on.
Tactically and in terms of personnel, there must be comparisons to be made. Surely. O’Neill’s Leicester team was one of the more recent to play 3-5-2 on a regular basis, and I’m pretty sure that’s due for a comeback. He tended to play longer balls, usually travelling from the left boot of Steve Guppy to the supple young body of Emile Heskey. Sunderland have Seb Larsson and he’s a winger, right? And an unfairly maligned target man with an unrivalled ability to gift goals to others, clearly destined for greater things? Nicklas Bendtner probably sees himself something like that. The Leicester side of the mid-late ‘90s was built first and foremost on the rock solid defensive trio of Steve Walsh, Gerry Taggart, and Matt Elliott: a reliable if violent Englishman, a rugged and dynamic Irishman and a towering English-born Scottish international. Words, I’m sure you’ll agree, must could just as easily be describing Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Phil Bardsley. I can’t name many more Sunderland players and I’m losing the will to live here. I’m note even entirely sure what the point was. Basically,Sunderland should play like the Leicester City team of 1996-2000. I JUST WANT MY CHILDHOOD BACK. PLEASE FIX IT FOR ME MARTIN.
Now that analogy has run itself into a dead end, it seems only fitting to start another one. Martin O’Neill is a massive fan of criminology (dead end, see. Smashing segue). He’s obsessed with murders in a way that is definitely not creepy at all so Waking the Dead is probably his favourite TV programme. Like Trevor Eve, he’s a maverick, bursting on the scene and refusing to obey all the red tape that part-time teacher, notable banana fan, and Blair 2.0 that never was David ‘David’ Miliband probably wants to install in his role as vice chairman.
Connor Wickham is the sexy younger one he has at hand to slice open the QPR defence next weekend like a horribly mangled corpse. Actually is it Waking the Dead where the sexy one does the autopsies or is it the other one? Seeing as I’m not sure of that and I just called Connor Wickham sexy, it must be time to stop this nonsense.
So to sum up, Martin O’Neill is the manager of Sunderland now. He could set the team up like the Leicester side of my youth but he might not, and he’ll probably spend some money next month. He is exactly the same as Trevor Eve. Sunderland should be fine because he’s a cool guy and inspirational to boot. I know nothing about Sunderland or analogy.
Oh shit! I’ve got one that works! He played under Brian Clough, right? And now he’s a manager too! He’s just like him! Has anyone done that one before?