Martin O'Neill wasn't really banging his head against a
brick wall at Aston Villa.
It was more like he was strapped to a giant steam catapult,
one which was repeatedly slamming his cranium into the tungsten-reinforced
walls of Fort Knox.
Yet despite that, ED is struggling to have any sympathy for
the Northern Irishman the morning after he walked out of the manager's job at
Okay, so he was being given an impossible task. Being asked
to lead a team into the top four of the league, and therefore into the Champions
League, is something that today can only be done with the sort of budget that
would make Bill Gates choke on his Coco Pops.
And there's no doubt O'Neill was being asked to pull off the
feat both without the necessary means, and with the added frustration of
having his best players sold from under him just when he felt he was getting
It was as if he was being taunted by a cruel stepfather in a
sinister Roald Dahl book: the baby-faced O'Neill tasked with building a giant tower
of Lego, yet forced every so often to remove a critical brick just as the
construction was getting somewhere... When what he really needed was to be handed new boxes of
extra-strong blocks at key moments.
So if the task was impossible, why the lack of sympathy? Simple. He's a grown man who has
spent the last few years earning a seven-figure salary for shouting
instructions at younger men, then sitting back to watch them play football
while thinking of pithy comments for post-match interviews.
What's more, he's performed that task well enough that he'll have
no trouble whatsoever walking into a top job as soon as one becomes available. One
of ED's colleagues - a Manchester United fan - proclaimed as much when the news
broke last night: "Excellent!" he said. "Now all he has to do is
hang around for a few months, Fergie can retire, and he can come to
That amazing reputation is based on decent records at
Celtic, Leicester City and, er, Wycombe Wanderers. At Villa he has been solid,
but flawed. Remember the disastrous moment when he sent a reserve team to Moscow
for a UEFA Cup tie, totally undermining his players' efforts during a campaign
that had been going on for over six months? Protecting his squad for the league
he may have been, but it was an outrageous thing to do to a club that has
failed to win any silverware since the League Cup in 1996.
Yet O'Neill's knack for pithy comments, and an endearing
manner of letting triumph and disaster shine equally brightly through the thick
lenses of his spectacles, have ensured that his star has continued to shine.
As Harry Redknapp fans everywhere will surely admit, there's
nothing that fans love more than a manager who wears his heart on his sleeve
during the match, then delivers a selection of post-match bon mots to hail the
heroes or soften the blows as required.
If O'Neill mastered anything, he mastered that - and after a
few months of part-time work on the Match of the Day sofa, he will no doubt
walk in to a plum job elsewhere.
So, Martin, ED is happy to pat you on the back for standing
up to an unreasonable chairman - but if you want sympathy, you can find it
- - - -
O'Neill's Villa exit brings something else into sharp focus:
football's very own evolutionary biology.
In the nature corner, you have clubs that have the ability
to attract or buy the best raw talent in the world.
And over the nurture corner, you have clubs who stick with a
manager through thick and thin, giving them a chance to develop and grow a world-beating
Modern football demands that successful clubs have both.
It's no accident that of last season's two 'nature' clubs, Tottenham and Manchester City, it
was Spurs who won the prize of Champions League football last season, simply
because they had allowed Redknapp to settle in and nurture his players.
Unlike City, who parachuted Roberto Mancini in after
Eastlands' own version of the Night of the Long Knives mid-way through the season.
- - - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I haven't joined Manchester City to sit on the bench" - when ED first
caught a peripheral vision glimpse of this quote from Irish goalkeeper Shay
Given, we genuinely thought that the City players' latest demands had stretched
to wanting comfier pitchside seating arrangements. Yet now we can't help
wondering how many more of Mancini's players will make similar statements
between now and the end of the season.
FOREIGN VIEW: Former
Italy World Cup-winning midfielder Mauro Camoranesi has been ordered to pay a
$50,000 to an opponent he injured during a match in Argentina in 1994.
The ruling found in favour of Roberto Pizzo, who needed
surgery and a long period of rehabilitation after being kicked by
Argentine-born Camoranesi in a match in the Mar del Plata league south of
Buenos Aires on August 14 1994.
COMING UP: It's
Carling Cup night, with most Championship sides in action at 7.45pm - you can
follow our live scoring and updates from all the matches. Plus, Italy take on
Sven-Goran Eriksson's former side, Ivory Coast, in tonight's big international friendly.
If you want something to see you through the day until then, why not follow all
the latest from the European Swimming Championships?