Black Cats close to landing O'Neill
Martin O'Neill has moved into pole position in the race to become Sunderland's new manager as the club's owner, Ellis Short, wants to appoint someone who will excite supporters and boost attendances.
Although Mark Hughes was given serious consideration in the talks that have taken place since Steve Bruce's sacking on Wednesday, he does not have the same success on his CV. It appears O'Neill would have to turn the job down for Hughes to be offered the chance to succeed his former Manchester United team-mate.
Discussions were at an advanced stage last night, with O'Neill travelling to Wearside to meet Short and development director Niall Quinn. Sunderland hope O'Neill will be in the stands at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday as their new manager, with Bruce's former assistant Eric Black taking charge of the team on the day.
Significantly, having spent more than a year out of the game since quitting as manager of Aston Villa in August 2010, O'Neill recognises that the Black Cats are an attractive proposition, as long as he is given the means to make the best of it. In turn, Short has decided O'Neill is the first-choice candidate, with the best hope of establishing Sunderland among the top eight clubs in England.
It will not be a cheap decision for the American, who has covered losses of more than £50m since buying the club in May 2009. O'Neill will expect to be given a sizeable transfer kitty ahead of the January window and proof that Short will genuinely back him should he relocate to the north east of England.
Sources have suggested the kitty is likely to be around £15m and the Northern Irishman will also want guarantees that more money will be made available in the summer.
Given the budget restraints at the Stadium of Light, that money will have to come directly from Short, who will also have to cover the £6m compensation due to Bruce following the termination of a contract that was due to expire in 2014.
That was one of the key issues discussed as the negotiations moved towards completion and it remains a potential stumbling block to a contract being signed.
Short had not intended to invest any more of his own money in new players had Bruce remained in charge, but feels it will be a price worth paying if it ensures supporters are genuinely optimistic about what can be achieved under O'Neill. The appointment would be proof that Quinn's influence at the Stadium of Light remains, as he championed O'Neill's cause once it became clear that Bruce's time was up.
As for Hughes, he remains interested in the vacancy if the talks with O'Neill break down, and will meet Short and Quinn should they decide his rival's demands are too high a price to pay.
There were reports of interest from former Dutch international Ronald Koeman and ex-Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, but Sunderland have not discussed their credentials at any length as they look to bring their search for a new manager to a swift conclusion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)