It wasn’t long ago that Martin O’Neill was regularly touted for the eventual vacancy at Manchester United.
It wasn’t long ago that Martin O’Neill was regularly touted for the eventual vacancy at Manchester United. Every time the scenario was mentioned he was almost always in the top three candidates. But since spells with Aston Villa and Sunderland, his is a case that does not get much airplay, if any at all when the subject crops up. The Irishman did well at Villa and I have no doubt that he would have bettered Sunderland’s current position had he not been sacked on Easter Saturday.
But during these two periods, there has been a rise in young managers at the top clubs in Europe who have succeeded where future United bosses will be expected to including the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho, the man who masterminded a UEFA Cup win over O’Neill’s Celtic side in 2003 as boss of Porto. Reaching the final of a major European competition was a remarkable achievement with a Scottish side as it would be now.
Once upon a time, it was O’Neill who was the ‘bright, young thing’—his lively antics along the touchline contrasting starkly with his calmly composed interviews. But at the age of 61, having just been given the boot from the club he wanted to manage the most, will he get a chance to manage at the very top? There’ll be no shortage of takers for him, and with clubs dismissing managers left, right and centre, he won’t be without choice in the summer.
Mind you, chairmen seem to do most of their sackings during the season, so he may have to wait a little longer.
It is probably unfair to say that O’Neill is on a downfall. It’s a blotch on the CV certainly, but every manager, particularly nowadays, has them because they are not given enough time in their roles to stamp their mark on the team or the club as a whole. Maybe we should not base his reputation within the game on whether he is in line for the United job or the England job, which he has been on occasions, but it does say something.
Many feel that his style of management on and off the pitch has not moved on in the last 10 years, although it could be argued that they were working out fine at Aston Villa where he spent three seasons from the start of the 2007-2008 campaign, leading them to sixth-place in each of them. That’s pretty good-going when you consider where the club have been since he left.
During his time at Villa Park his side were talked of as the club who could potentially break up the regular top-four, the Champions League monopoly of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, clubs who, from 2004 to 2009, made up those positions in varying orders on five occasions.
Only Everton disturbed this in 2005 by finishing fourth. Tottenham Hotspur reached the same heights in O’Neill’s final season with the Villains, but it was they, the club from the Midlands, who put up a more consistent fight for one of the top-four spots during his time there. Their fans would kill for those days again (some kill for seemingly no reason at all, but there’s murderous supporters of every club no doubt). In the two seasons since his departure they have been fighting relegation.
Coincidence? I doubt it.
Will O’Neill be touted for the so-called ‘big’ jobs in the coming months? There’ll be a vacancy at Chelsea, but will Roman Abramovich take notice or even be aware of the Irishman’s success with Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa? It’ll probably not make a difference anyway.
As stated before it is probably because there are younger managers who have been more successful than him in terms of major trophies won, so naturally they are the ones that the owners look to because they are proven at the very top. These are people who are and have been working with huge financial backing at the top clubs in Europe, so who’s to say O’Neill cannot do the same if given the chance?
He did great things with Wycombe (two successive promotions and only narrowly missing out on a third), Leicester (guiding them to the Premiership where they finished in the top ten three years running plus two League Cups), Celtic (where he won three league championships, three Scottish Cups, one League Cup plus leading them to that aforementioned European final) and Villa (who he led to a first major final in 10 years). But none are considered to be in the calibre of the English league championship and Champions League.
With speculation surrounding David Moyes’ future at Everton, he could well be the favourite for that job should the opportunity arise this summer. It is all about the here and now, but in terms of history, they are a massive club, arguably bigger than Chelsea, although that will probably change in around 20 years.
Years ago, when debates of who was going to eventually take over Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford were raging, O’Neill was a popular choice, one who could be there in the long-term, what with him being a young manager an’ all. But with even more youthful coaches achieving success at the levels that are required at a club like United, where does this now leave this bouncing bee of a man?