Wednesday 18 September 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Will Martin O'Neill get to prove himself again?'

Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A matter of minutes.

That was the time lag between the confirmation yesterday that Southampton had sacked Mark Hughes as their manager and the first mention of Martin O’Neill as one of the contenders for the post.

Within two hours, O’Neill was not even a serious contender as last night the bookies had Austrian coach Ralph Hasenhuttl as odds-on favourite for the job.

Martin O’Neill was 66/1, the only ones rated lower were Gary Rowett, Michael O’Neill, Rafa Benitez and Frank Lampard.

So, a case of minutes and hours yesterday but how long before O’Neill has a job in football again?

Will he have to wait for weeks or months – years even – before he would finally admit defeat? And even if a club take on O’Neill again, will they want the baggage that clearly comes with Roy Keane as sidekick?

An alternative to another role is the fate that befell his predecessor as Ireland boss.

Giovanni Trapattoni was 74 when he was axed as Ireland manager but he planned to work again. Regularly, the Italian media would link Trap with coaching jobs.

He claims to have turned down the manager’s job with Morocco and spoke to the Ivory Coast about a position there, but nothing came up. Now 79 and not in the best of health, Trap will not work again.

O’Neill is not quite in the same boat; he’s 13 years younger for a start.

Also, it’s less than a year since O’Neill was in demand, linked with the Stoke City job around this time last year, before he opted not to take up that post and stayed with the FAI (albeit on a new contract with a hefty pay rise).

A lot has happened since then however, as Ireland crumbled and, with it, O’Neill’s stock.

The coach who won plaudits for masterminding wins over Germany and Italy (with clean sheets) in competitive games was now someone whose teams were floundering, going four games without a goal, or a hint of a goal.

Time is harsh on football managers. Trapattoni never formally announced his retirement from coaching but it happened to him. 

It’s happened to others, too. Look back to the 2012/13 season, the last time O’Neill managed at club level.

Of the 25 men who managed teams in the Premier League that season, only three (Rafa Benitez, Chris Hughton, Mauricio Pochettino) still have jobs in the league.

Some of them, such as Steve Clarke or Harry Redknapp, will not get a decent job again, outside of the jungle.

The main man becomes yesterday’s man pretty quickly and new coaches, such as Hasenhüttl, Nuno Espírito Santo, Marco Silva and David Wagner, get the gigs.

Clubs are more likely to try a rookie coach with a big reputation (Lampard; Steven Gerrard) or a foreign import (Marcelo Bielsa; Aitor Karanka) than hand one more job to someone such as O’Neill.

There is hope, as club owners have recently hired people such as Claudio Ranieri, a year older than O’Neill.

O’Neill is irked by how badly it ended with Ireland.

Whether he gets a chance to prove himself again remains to be seen.

Online Editors

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