Martin O’Neill has been made the overwhelming favourite to replace Giovanni Trappatoni as the Republic of Ireland manager and despite the man himself claiming he has had no contact with the Irish FA, it seems only a matter of time before the Northern Irishman decides to step into the unfamiliar world of international football.
However, questions have been raised over O’Neill’s suitability for the role given his recent failure at Sunderland; can he prove the doubters wrong?
Following his disastrous reign in the North-East some have suggested O’Neill was a manager who was being left behind, that his motivational methods alone are not enough to deliver success in the modern game.
Motivation is now only one side of the modern manager’s repertoire and for this reason O’Neill famously delegates some of the training and tactical elements of the game to his staff.
But the methods that worked at Celtic, Leicester and Aston Villa just didn’t click at Sunderland, and his failure was compounded by a number of mistakes in the transfer market alongside an unrealistic weight of expectation from the fans.
However, Sunderland aside, there’s no ignoring the quality on his CV. Promotion and League Cup success at Leicester, regular top half finishes with Villa and probably most important for the Irish FA, dominance of the Scottish Premier League with Celtic.
O’Neill has also managed a number of current Irish internationals, including Aiden McGeady, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea, so will be able to hit the ground running when it comes to familiarising himself with the squad.
These players and in fact any who’ve played under O’Neill will testify to his strengths as a motivator; the ability to make a player feel ten feet tall before a game is exactly what a national side like Ireland need, given that most of the time their opposition can field much stronger sides.
His pitch side antics during a match are also useful in instilling some passion into a side. Getting the best performance from an average team is what Ireland fans want to see and what O’Neill can deliver.
Over the course of a season international managers don’t have long to make their mark on a team, which is why some successful club managers can’t make the transition to managing a country. But if O’Neill can bring his trademark enthusiasm to the Ireland set up then he should have little trouble inspiring them to play for him, especially following Trappatoni’s low key style of management.
O’Neill’s time at Sunderland was perhaps a sign that Premier League football is becoming too complicated for a manager who likes to keep it simple.
Yet whilst a return to club football doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, taking the job as Ireland boss would suit him perfectly – less expectation, the freedom to appoint his own staff, and no pressure to spend millions in the transfer market.
And if indeed there are any Ireland fans that harbour any doubts about O’Neill’s quality, his best reference comes courtesy of his former manager: “Anybody who can do anything in Leicester but make a jumper has got to be a genius.” – Brian Clough.