Martin O’Neill couldn’t help thinking about Christmas past as he considered the challenge that awaits Sunderland today. Mark Douglas reports.
MARTIN O’Neill’s Christmas message is laced with caustic humour and optimism – and delivered with his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek.
Sunderland’s season has zigzagged in fortune and form, but after a defeat of Southampton that puts clear daylight between the Black Cats and their relegation rivals he was in fine spirits on Christmas Eve. That is until he started to think a bit deeper and lament the passing of his playing career, a period he is almost certain he will never top.
The Sunderland boss believes, to borrow a phrase from Wizzard’s classic festive toe-tapper, it is Christmas every day for professional footballers. But for managers? They are forever anticipating the next problem, fully aware that somewhere over the horizon is another hurdle to be overcome.
So while O’Neill is adamant that the festive period is his favourite time of the year, he also points out that he only enjoys it for an hour or two before the next Premier League engagement clouds his festive mood.
“I enjoy it for about an hour or two. I don’t think you can ever say you enjoy it, yet it is genuinely my favourite time of the year. I enjoy it for the hour or two but I am no different than any other manager. I was talking to Nigel Adkins about this after the game and he will soon look like me,” he said.
Reminded of a famous quote attributed to him a few years ago about footballers enjoying a charmed life, he stands by his belief that the stars of today should make the most of it.
Sunderland’s players were in on Christmas Day for a light session but there were long faces – which is exactly as O’Neill would expect it from a squad that will never be found wanting for professionalism or effort.
“I think that it is the most phenomenal life you can get,” he said.
“That is true, especially if you have a couple of years which are successful. I was lucky enough to be at Nottingham Forest for a few years and had a couple of successful years in Europe and that was fantastic. Every player has to enjoy the career.
“You get paid to stay fit and healthy, and as long as you do not have to endure serious injury it is a great career. If you are one of those players thinking of going into management I have one piece of advice: forget about it. That was a joke. It is genuinely great if young players want to step into management and think they can do it. And this idea you feel as if you know who is going to become a manager I don’t think you do at all.