Home » Sunderland » Sunderland must appoint a stellar name – like Martin O’Neill – to replace sacked Steve Bruce

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Other names are in the frame for this most attractive of posts, individuals of the calibre of Mark Hughes, whose reputation for organising a team on a limited budget remains undimmed by his strange exit from Fulham.

He can build a cohesive unit, as he did effectively with Wales (after a slow start as they assimilated his 4-5-1 tactics) and Blackburn Rovers. Hughes has a proven backroom team who can drill a struggling side. Hughes could do the Sunderland job.

But some day soon a chairman is going to persuade O’Neill to step back into a Premier League dugout, his enthusiasm restored, and revitalise a club. He’s had enough offers. If Sunderland are interested and go to work on O’Neill, flattering him, promising him funds to strengthen defence, midfield and attack, he must take it.

For all the squad’s flaws, it’s a great job. Sunderland boast a strong fan base, a good stadium and an ambitious chairman in Ellis Short. The issue with O’Neill would be that he wants a substantial treasure chest. Is Short prepared to go again financially.

Even before spending any money, O’Neill would have an immediate effect simply through his strength of personality. At a small private lunch recently, O’Neill made a short speech to thank the host and the 25 guests listened spellbound. He has this presence.

Players particularly respond to O’Neill, knowing that he has achieved so much during his career as a European Cup-winning midfielder, and enjoying the training overseen by John Robertson and Steve Walford.

O’Neill times his arrival carefully at training, echoing his old Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough. A mystique clings to O’Neill.

The timing of Steve Bruce’s dismissal indicates that the club may have had a replacement in mind. People talk about the new man having a relatively easy landing, facing Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, yet these are crucial fixtures against opponents inhabiting the same troubled end of the table. Sunderland need four points from those at least.

Some calm and consistency needs to flow through Sunderland, some stability brought through a quick improvement in results. Short will have seen how the supporters turned on Bruce, and how they need mollifying by the appointment of a high-profile, respected successor.

This is not the time for a young manager. Sunderland need experience.

Some sympathy must exist for Bruce, one of the most likeable, honest, hard-working men in football. He was unfortunate that his striking options diminished.

A year ago, Sunderland’s attack was Asamoah Gyan, Darren Bent and Danny Welbeck. Now it is the inconsistent Nicklas Bendtner, the injury-prone Connor Wickham and the unproven Ji Dong-won. Having brought in the three (with Bendtner on a year’s loan), Bruce can hardly avoid culpability.

Yet his replacement must beware that Sunderland have a problem bringing talent to Wearside. That is why they must appoint a stellar name, a figure who will command respect from potential signings.

If Short goes for Hughes, the Welshman will doubtless do OK, but he lacks the star quality of O’Neill. One thing is for sure: whoever gets it right at the Stadium of Light will have his name up in lights.


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