Football - O'Neill: Footballers have it made

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has admitted every day is like Christmas Day for a professional footballer.

PA Sport

The Black Cats, like clubs around the country, will forego part of the festivities as they prepare for their Boxing Day clash with Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City. However, 60-year-old O'Neill insists that is a small price to pay for the life modern-day players lead.

"It's the most phenomenal life you could get, particularly if you have a couple of years where you can be successful. I was lucky enough to be involved in a Nottingham Forest team which ruled Europe for a couple of years, so that was really fantastic," he said.

"But any professional player has got to really enjoy it. You are being paid to keep yourself healthy and fit and if you don't have any major serious injuries, which are obviously more than a bit of a setback and terrible to endure, then it's a great career."

O'Neill added with a smile: "Any of those players who fancy going into management, I give them one piece of advice: forget about it."

The Ulsterman was in positive mood as he drew up his blueprint for a game which last season presented him with one of his most memorable days in the job to date.

It was New Year's Day when Roberto Mancini's all-stars arrived on Wearside, but left empty-handed after substitute Ji Dong-won's injury-time strike condemned them to a 1-0 defeat for the second successive season.

The win was all the more remarkable as keeper Simon Mignolet, who was planning to watch the game from the stands with his parents, was drafted into the starting line-up after Keiren Westwood was taken ill, while midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback were pressed into service as emergency full-backs amid an injury crisis.

O'Neill said: "It was a terrific win. There was a lot of character shown that day. I know these are over-used words in the game, but that was very important for us because Manchester City at any given stage in that match or in any game, can rip you apart.

"We conjured it from somewhere. Ji's goal was greeted with an enormous roar, which I shan't forget, and for us to win on the opening day of the calendar year gave us a big boost."

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