By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Sunderland sacked Martin O’Neill last night, deciding that the last seven games of the season are better approached without his excitable jumping on the sidelines. It’s a shock considering the reputation O’Neill (61) enjoys within the game, but since taking over at the Stadium of Light in December 2011, it can hardly be argued that his arrival has delivered the requisite improvement from a supposed ‘leading light’ of coaching.
The announcement followed a disappointing defeat to Manchester United in which they showed all the cutting edge of a squidgy marshmallow, but it was the sequence of seven games without a win prior to that cooked his goose. A rather cold and clinical statement from the club explained;
Sunderland AFC has announced that it has parted company with manager Martin O’Neill this evening. The club would like to place on record its thanks to Martin and wishes him well for the future.
Sunderland are on the hunt for a new manager and with the threat of relegation looming, it’s remarkable how many teams have decided to twist when presented with the ‘stick or twist’ option. Southampton, Reading and now Sunderland have now gone for a late change with the season in the closing stretch, adding to the change made by QPR earlier in the season. Despite the questionable wisdom of handing out a P45 this late in the season, it looks like sheer weight of numbers will make it the right decision for at least one club.
Black to the drawing board?
It begs the questions ‘where to now for O’Neill?’ and ‘what managerial genius do the Black Cats expect to waltz in and turn things around?’ It’s not so long ago that the Northern Irishman looked to be the unequivocal anointed one to take over from Lord Fergie at Old Trafford, but after debatable outcomes from his stints in charge of Aston Villa and now Sunderland, his reputation has dipped remarkably.
Villa’s struggles have retrospectively made his tenure look like some sort of utopia, but it may have more to do with owner, Randy Lerner’s decision to limit spending in recent seasons. At the Black Cats, O’Neill again spent relatively freely, but hasn’t managed to get the club moving in the right direction. In fact, depending on your view of just how much a two-horse race the SPL is, it could be argued that his last truly impressive managerial feat came back at Leicester around the turn of the millennium.
A club will no doubt give him a chance somewhere else, but his options may look slightly less stellar than anticipated next time he puts on his good shirt and goes on the job hunt.
For their part, Sunderland seem determined to complete the knee-jerk reaction quickly. They’re talking about announcing a new manager immediately and the intention is it will be a permanent appointment. Paolo Di Canio, Steve McClaren and Mark Hughes are a trio of unappealing and dubious potential appointments which highlight the fuzzy logic of Sunderland’s decision. All three have shown managerial aptitude at points in their careers, but are they the type of manager for the job at hand? European Cup winning manager (!), Roberto Di Matteo is also available, but is being excessively adored by Chelsea fans really a skill that will get Sunderland out of trouble? If the choice of options feels as appetizing as a gravel sandwich, sadly the token appearance of Alan Curbishley’s name surprisingly high on the list doesn’t help. The man who has been linked with every managerial job since about 2003 is not out of the frame.
Options like Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Gus Poyet are more interesting. These bright young things of management may be worth taking a chance on, but will they be willing to stake their growing reputation at a club in such trouble? Much like Sunderland’s place in the Premier League next season, it’s highly doubtful.
The Black Cats have made a bold decision, but it what happens now that will decide if it’s a bad decision.