O'Neill delves into his Clough memories in bid to lift Sunderland
12:45 GMT, 31 July 2012
Thursday morning. The first 'home' pre-season game for Sunderland, so a press call. And Martin O’Neill was reminiscing about Brian Clough.
He was about to return to the club where Clough and trusty assistant Peter Taylor cut their managerial teeth on their way to becoming European champions. Hartlepools, as it was known then, where they spent as much time redecorating the ground as they could rebuilding a team. The great man remembered the time fondly.
O’Neill said: 'He would talk about the chairman who was 5ft 2in and his feet couldn't touch the floor when he sat down. He and Peter Taylor were really funny taking about those days.’
Driving to success: Brian Clough in his Hartlepool days
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The pre-embarrassing-defeat-at-Hartlepool press conference also presented an opportunity to quiz O’Neill on the difference between the modern player and those of his generation who had a rather different outlook to close season.
In those days it was common for players not to see a ball for the first week. Day one meant run, run and run some more. Right up O’Neill’s street.
'Players will mostly stick to a programme now,’ he said. 'I think there is a realisation that you can play for longer. Years ago, when we hit 30, the feeling was that it was all-but over. Now with the money being so good, it’s worthwhile the players staying in shape to prolong their careers.
'I was the same on the first day of training as I was on the last – dreadful. John Robertson was worse. We used to run around a lake at Woolerton and they didn’t have a stopwatch for John, they had a calendar out.
'Funnily enough, it was always the case that the boys who could belt around that lake the quickest were never in the team when the season started. Of the four or five who could run brilliantly, if you threw a ball at their feet they would fall over it.’
Memories: Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill
But it was recalling Clough’s own attitude to pre-season that brought arguably the biggest revelation about the first summer warm-up Sunderland and the club’s players have experienced under O’Neill.
He recalled: 'Our pre-season at Forest was overall less demanding than at other clubs. I went down to Norwich at 28, Mel Mechin was the manager, and the pre-season was purgatory. Shocking, really, really shocking. I thought he had no respect for the number of games I had played!
'We didn’t see too much of Cloughie
during pre-season. He went to the games, which he held a lot of store
in. That was really important. He always felt that players should take
responsibility to get themselves into some sort of condition.
he was brilliant at was giving you time off. If you had given your
heart and soul into the game then you needed the time because the season
was too long. Jimmy Gordon was our trainer and Cloughie trusted him.
But we never saw him until we went out to Germany, as it normally was,
to play some games.’
is a manager who, like Clough, tends to leave the day-to-day coaching
to his coaches. So when he says that Clough tended to concentrate on
players’ form in the July matches, and no doubt results, rather than the
winner of the club cross country championship, you got the feeling
O’Neill might just feel the same.
the reaction to that his pilgrimage to Hartlepool Sunderland up the
ante in the move for Steven Fletcher, and no doubt a few more O’Neill is
keeping very close to his chest. Stand by for other reinforcements. And
improved results as Sunderland hit the road this week for games in
Helsingborgs, York, Derby and Leicester.
Tick tock. At midnight tonight, Newcastle United can finally tear up Demba Ba’s contract and worry no more about the future of their striker. Not that they’ve been that worried anyway.
It has been a year since the two parties negotiated the 7million release clause. A year ago it made complete sense. Six weeks later, it was sleepless night material.
There’s been interest from a few clubs, and no doubt smouldering interest at clubs across Europe has been stoked by those within Ba’s entourage who could benefit from a move. But there has been no firm bid.
And no agitation from the man himself. Just the opposite in fact. This week he blamed the press, which is a bit harsh, but taken on the chin. Ba doesn’t need to keep the fans on his side, but it’s a good way of doing it, even if it was through the biggest stirrer which exposed a very accessible pot in the first place.
Staying put: Demba Ba (right) is likely to remain at Newcastle this summer
Throughout the summer Alan Pardew and Newcastle have been relaxed about the situation. Understandably they haven’t sought to seek any further publicity to the most-publicised clause in recent history, but equally they have assumed a laidback approach to any approaches.
Papiss Cisse’s electrifying start to Premier League life, which coincided with Ba’s drought and his own doubts about his role in the side, must have reassured the Newcastle manager and his employers that they would cope with any departure, and have plans in place for any funds.
But, of course, they want Ba to stay and expect him to do so. For at the heart of the story is a clean-living, honest man who appreciates Newcastle, its manager and the faith they showed 12 months ago. And the adventure up here could be only just beginning.
Of course there is still a day for one club to test the water and Ba’s commitment to the Newcastle cause. Just don’t be surprised to hear news of an improved contract soon.
Another friendly face has joined Middlesbrough. Tony Mowbray has added Doncaster’s George Friend to his squad and continues to assemble a unit built for the rigours of a whole season.
A midfielder and additional striker will just about complete the jigsaw and with loan options very much available, optimism should start to spread on Teesside. Should.
Paying to watch football is not high on the list of priorities for many families in and around Middlesbrough, and interest in the team has waned since relegation from the Premier League. It is six long years since they reached the UEFA Cup Final.
Because of its fan-base, Middlesbrough has to be at the forefront of initiatives to breed and attract support and entice back the disillusioned. It can’t be easy. Some scars will never be healed, there’s not much money around and a losing or drawing team can’t compete with other cheaper pursuits.
With Mowbray at the helm there is hope, and not just because of his empathy with the region and his beating Boro heart.
He is also a proven, accomplished manager who has been patient with his rebuilding, appreciative of the support from Steve Gibson and understood the constraints left by his predecessors, who were the real benefits of Gibson’s generosity.
The attendance for last season’s FA Cup replay with Sunderland, albeit buoyed by considerable away support, proved the fans are still out there, their interest in a successful Boro side unabated. You know over 30,000 would be there regularly in the top flight, but it was a struggle to attract more than 20,000 in the league regularly last season.
And the worrying thing for me was the number who disappeared after the cup defeat for the much more vital Championship games, in which Boro stumbled, blowing their play-off chances.
Few expected Middlesbrough to be in contention last season, least of all Mowbray, but the challenge faltered at the half-empty Riverside.
Mowbray has talked many times about the European glory nights when the place was full and buzzing and it can’t be a particularly great place for Middlesbrough players to play anymore. The manager is doing his bit, and for the early part of the season at least, must hope the Middlesbrough fans can do theirs.