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Angry O'Neill bites back over 'dinosaur' criticism

MARTIN O'NEILL has hit back at critics who believe he is a "dinosaur" manager who has lost his touch and believes that he did not deserve to be sacked by Sunderland – the team he supported as a boy – after just 15 months in charge.

O'Neill (61) was controversially replaced by Paolo di Canio following last Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United.

The loss to Premier League leaders United stretched Sunderland's winless run to eight games and left them hovering just one point above the relegation zone.

But O'Neill, who had enjoyed previous success as a manager of Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa, is adamant he was sacked prematurely by owner Ellis Short. "I would have backed myself to keep Sunderland up," he said – a feat he managed last term. "We had a struggle to score goals. I'd been at the club 15 months and that was a problem throughout."

Some have suggested he had lost his hunger during his time on Wearside, a view O'Neill rejected. "I'm still pretty disappointed – frustrated more than anything else," said O'Neill (pictured right).

"I thought with the experience I've had over the years and coming into the football club at the time when it was pretty well on its knees – and I believe I saved the club from relegation last year – I felt the opportunity (to remain) should have still been afforded to me."

Asked specifically about criticism his methods are old-fashioned, O'Neill countered forcefully.

"I've heard this word 'dinosaur' mentioned," he said. "The biggest dinosaur in the game happens to be the best manager, and he has been for years.

"He'll go down in history as one of the greats. I'm talking about Alex Ferguson. There's no bigger dinosaur. He's 70 (sic). Everybody has a shelf life, but it doesn't depend on age.

"I'm in the business now where I think very little shocks you about professional football, particularly in the last 10 years. I think you can nearly lose your job in management if your tie doesn't fit your suit." O'Neill wants to make a swift return to management and could be tempted by the task of lifting Leeds United back into the Premier League.

For him, it was not the manager who needed to be changed at Sunderland, but the quality of the playing staff.

"The DNA of Sunderland football club is about passion," he added.

"But it carries you only a certain distance – you've got to have the ability to play. Overall, there are some very fine players at Sunderland at this moment, but we haven't got enough true ability throughout the side to be able to cope with every single thing that's thrown at us."

Di Canio has arrived with plenty of baggage but O'Neill would not be drawn on the suitability of his successor.

"That's part of Sunderland's future now and it's their prerogative to do what they want," he said.

"I think he has mentioned he expects to keep Sunderland up and that's fine. He thinks he will be able to do it and that's why he has been brought in. He has said he'll do it, that's up to him."

Di Canio, meanwhile, "can't wait" to make his Premier League debut as a manager tomorrow.

"Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – what can you say?" he said. "I can't wait for it and I expect the same desire and determination from my players to make sure they do a good job.

"We always have to remember that the main protagonists are the players, but with my help and my staff's help we can go there and get a result," Di Canio added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Irish Independent