Sunderland is a graveyard for players and for managers too
22:21 GMT, 31 March 2013
07:03 GMT, 1 April 2013
It feels as if Sunderland owner Ellis Short has flipped a coin. And now he hopes and prays he has made the right choice.
Sacking Martin O’Neill and appointing Paolo Di Canio is a massive gamble by the club.
I just hope it doesn’t return to haunt them, and they end up back in the Championship. They cannot afford to go there again.
Comings and goings: Paolo Di Canio (left) has replaced Martin O'Neill (right) as Sunderland manager
With seven games to go, I thought Martin would see them over the line and start to build for next season. Unlike the new man, he knows everything about the players so I cannot see the point of sacking him now.
I’m sorry, but Sunderland were never going to beat Manchester United. They will be Premier League champions, possibly with the highest points total ever. Mr Short sees things differently.
I have been a huge admirer of Martin O’Neill for years. Although Sunderland supporters, who all seemed to want him in the first place, have told me the football has been poor, which is reflected in the results, I always felt he was the right fit for Sunderland.
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He has been successful at his other clubs, built good teams, and it seems wrong to me that he wasn’t given proper time to do that on Wearside.
Sunderland has become a graveyard for managers, and players. Martin O’Neill had a 29 per cent success rate and was the second most successful Sunderland manager in the Premier League, behind Peter Reid on 33 per cent. And I was there when Reidy was hounded out.
Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy and Martin O’Neill don’t become bad managers overnight, but they all found it tough going in the Premier League with Sunderland.
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Now, my own time there was not the happiest of my career and my relationship with some fans is well documented. It can’t help that my best spell in 100-plus games was the season we were relegated.
But I wasn’t the only one among team-mates to suffer. I found that unless the team made a blazing start to every home game, the fans would get frustrated quickly, and volubly. And I look at Adam Johnson and James McClean and I don’t see international wingers — I see nervous boys struggling to cope with the pressure.
And when you are by the touchline getting pelted, you want to try harder when the ball comes to you. And when things don’t come off, as they don’t when you try too hard, the stick gets even worse. I always wanted to play, prove people wrong; it was a tough time.
Of course, fans around the country look at Sunderland and can’t work out why there is such massive expectations for a club that has won nothing for 40 years.
The expectation at Sunderland is massive. And that’s where it matters; that’s where players have to handle the pressure.
And the manager. I just hope, for Sunderland’s sake, that Paolo Di Canio can handle it and steer them away from trouble.