Martin O’Neill aspires to better things with Sunderland, but it will take time. Stuart Rayner looks at a prime example of how to do it.
MARTIN O’Neill has a dream. “I’m sitting here today in early November 2012 and I hope in a couple of seasons we’ll have really strong team,” he says. “I want a side here that not only I’m proud of, but is also competing, being as strong as Everton are, for instance.”
As Sunderland’s less patient supporters would be wise to remember, the Merseysiders did not get there in a hurry.
With the Premier League season more than a quarter of the way through, today’s opponents are odd ones out in the early Champions League places.
Nobody bats an eyelid at megabucks Manchester City, perennial winners Manchester United or European champions Chelsea but Everton should not be there, not on their shoestring budget. They have plenty of history, but not the cash that too often trumps it in the present.
That they are holding their own – at least in the phase of the season where they traditionally struggle – is of immense credit to manager David Moyes (pictured below).
For ten years he has had them punching above their weight.
Today Everton are a mighty obstacle between Sunderland and the win that could finally kick-start a season. It is 2000 since the Black Cats beat them, 16 years since they tasted victory at Goodison Park.
But once the final whistle is blown, it is hard to argue with O’Neill’s assessment that they are “a reasonable model for us to try and look at”.
For the last eight years, Everton’s average gates have been steady in the mid-30,000s. In the Premier League, Sunderland’s have tended to be around 40,000. They are roughly comparable clubs, albeit one further advanced in its development.
That has been a painstaking process at Goodison Park, allowed by chairman Bill Kenwright’s unshakeable faith in Moyes, his manager since 2002.
The Scot’s second full season ended a place above the relegation zone. Most chairmen would have panicked, Kenwright did not. Twelve months later Everton became England’s first Champions League debutants for four years, although they could not reach the competition proper.