O”Neill ticks all the boxes to take Sunderland forward
If selecting a new manager is a box ticking exercise, Sunderland will be in the Champions League before they play Blackburn Rovers at the weekend.
Not a Geordie. Tick. Sunderland fan. Tick. Charming. Tick. Track record and trophy winner (as player and manager). Tick. All round good egg who can lift the club. Tick. Tick and Tick again.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short has delivered the manager the majority of Sunderland supporters wanted.
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Box ticker: Martin O”Neill is the right man to lead Sunderland forward
And having just sacked the manager who the majority of Sunderland supporters wanted rid of, Short has already won the popularity contest (which is no mean feat at the Stadium of Light).
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Northern Exposure: Stadium of Light, where most Mackems have been kept in the dark
Northern Exposure: Hartlepool show Newcastle and Sunderland how to pull in the big crowds
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O’Neill is a bums on seat appointment, which will suit Short as an owner and chairman who will forever has his eye on the little computer in the directors’ room which counts the collective clicks on the turnstiles as they accumulate on match day.
It is certainly hard to imagine the computer going into overdrive this Sunday afternoon if Bruce was still the manager, especially if he had still been in charge for the unfortunate defeat at Wolves.
Of all the managers out there, either in work or not, O’Neill was the one man who could galvanise a Sunderland public who, judging by the reaction to this column last week, are comfortable with the expectations they place on their managers.
They drove Peter Reid (two seventh finishes) and Bruce (10th last season) out of the club, they got fed up with Mick McCarthy when the ridiculous spending restrictions tied his hands and they were starting to turn on Roy Keane before he had their minds up for them.
And every time the vacancy came up, they wanted O’Neill. Now they have him. Now the hard work starts.
The Irishman has not inherited a bad squad, in fact it is arguably one of the strongest in the history of the club. If they had a goalscorer like say Darren Bent or Asamoah Gyan (and don’t rule out Gyan returning) it would easily be the strongest.
Popular choice: Ellis Short has delivered a manager most of the fans will be happy with
Very few people questioned Bruce’s new recruits in the summer when he was signing a player a day in May and June and strengthening the team which had achieved only the third top ten finish in half century.
His downfall came because they did not gel quickly enough, and they dared to lose at home to Newcastle.
All that to come for O’Neill whose immediate priority is to work with players whose collective confidence is shot to pieces.
Inevitably, as there is a new manager and new coaches, there will be a change on the training ground where O’Neill and Steve Walford will find facilities among the best in the country, if not Europe. They even have undersoil heating this winter, a benefit none of his predecessors have enjoyed in their battles against the North East winter.
Not a popular choice: Steve Bruce was not a favourite at The Stadium of Life
No matter what sessions, and what emphasis comes in the day-to-day work at the Academy of Light now, the biggest influence O’Neill will make will come in his dealings with those player.
He was eager to emphasise the need for clean slates at his press conference, for everyone he encounters, which will be good news for the likes of Bendtner and Bramble, but less so for Cattermole who starts the new era suspended.
O’Neill breezed into the Stadium of Light on Tuesday and was, of course, charm personified. He said all the right things, as every manager does on these occasions, but with a hint of genuine affection for the supporters, the region, and the club.
Boyhood heroes: O”Neill will be helped by the fact he is a Sunderland fan
It is a bright new era for Sunderland. And it should be. But as O’Neill said himself, being a Sunderland fan gives him about a fortnight’s grace.
A feeling of optimism is already reverberating around the place, even before Sunday’s debut match. But then that was the case when Bruce was signing 11 players and Newcastle in particular were struggling to find new recruits.
Just minutes before O’Neill took his seat, alone, in the Riverview Suite on the stadium’s third floor, the sad news filtered through of Mick Wadsworth’s sacking down the road by Hartlepool United.
Shine a light: O”Neill will be expected to revive the fortunes of Sunderland
This column was one of the first to congratulate the League One club in the summer for its 100 season ticket initiative and the interest it had attracted in the town.
But getting rid of Wadsworth, who is no yes man, but one of the best and most qualified coaches in this country, is totally ridiculous and counter-productive. Hartlepool are five points off the play-offs, 10 above relegation, and once again fighting above their weight. What do the board expect
Gone: Hartlepool boss Mick Wadsworth is the latest manager from the North East to be sacked in recent weeks
When they made a terrific start to the new campaign and were unbeaten after the first nine games, Wadsworth was a genius and the fans loved him – but even then not all the new season ticket holders turned up (but then you get the feeling if Lionel Messi was playing in their back garden some wouldn’t open the curtains). Some had just paid their money, end of, and would always pick and choose their matches.
Admittedly they are currently in a miserable run of seven home games without a win and attendances have fallen to around 4,500 (still nearly double last season’s average). And perhaps there are concerns already about re-launching the season ticket scheme for next season.
But if Hartlepool are to be seriously considered as an innovative club, why not go against the grain and show some faith in a manager who has worked under financial constraints without moaning Surely the board can see the excellent start to the season was no mistake. As usual, they think they can do the job better.
So, like every other club in the land, the knee-jerk reaction to disquiet among their fans is to fire the man in charge of picking the team. Sad, really.