Captain's Blog: Ellis Won't Cut O'Neill Stay Short

Michael Regan

The hugely demoralizing run has left some starting to question Martin O'Neill's future on Wearside. Thankfully, Ellis Short doesn't seem to be amongst them, and I urge anyone who is to have a bit of a rethink.

Pick your proverb and make it your sword. That is essentially the position we find ourselves in regarding Sunderland and Martin O'Neill at present. Some are going with 'Rome wasn't built in a day', others citing Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Of course, only one man's blade is sharp enough to actually count - Ellis Short's - and by all accounts we can expect it to be swung only to deflect doubts in his manager not, as some would seem to hope, to administer a fatal blow to his tenure on Wearside.

I should stress that I don't know that first hand. It isn't as if Mr Short invites me to Skibo Castle for a crumpet supper and chat about the inner-workings of Sunderland AFC. (Although, if you are reading this Ellis, I am available at short notice and happy to travel.)

But if Martin O'Neill's recounting of conversations the two men have had is anything to go by, then I think it is safe to assume that a policy of patience is at work in the Stadium of Light boardroom.

The owner has said to me this will take some time to get things together here. I don't intend to do it in 10 years as that would bore the life out of everybody but I intend to do it as quickly as I possibly can.

I don't say I know Mr Short fantastically well but we've had some very good conversations and he is the one pointing out to me this will take time. He is not expecting anything at the minute and he genuinely wants stability at the football club.

In the past it's the teams who have shown stability who have come through it. It is tough, there is no doubt and like everybody else I would not mind a few more points on the board if we could get them, but I knew it would be tough. I want to do well at the club and more importantly I expect to do well.

We will look to strengthen the squad. In the course of time I think both of us want to deliver a team that not only would the fans be delighted with but also a side that can compete.

I have to say it is all music to my ears.

I won't insult anyone's intelligence by trying to put a positive spin on the last week. You could say that Sunderland played rather well against West Bromwich Albion and didn't get beat against Queens Park Rangers, but both would offer scant consolation to a set of supporters starved of recent reason for cheer.

Things have to improve. We know it, Ellis Short knows it, the players know it, and Martin O'Neill knows it. The answer doesn't always lie in replacing the manager, however. That is merely a pseudo instant solution for the instant technological age that demands instant gratification.

But one thing that has never changed and is never likely to change is that no matter how good you are at anything, time is the elixir of legend.

The glory days may be the ones that time immortalizes, but before Brian Clough was winning the league title with Derby County he was spending two years getting them out of the second division. In fact, in his first full season at the Baseball Ground he finished a place lower than his predecessor had managed. He spent even longer getting Nottingham Forest promoted.

Don Revie took three years to get Leeds United into the first division before the decade he spent dominating it. Bobby Robson didn't do a thing at Ipswich for four years. Even the great Bill Shankly needed a matter of years, not months, to effect change at a then second division Liverpool.

In more recent times Alex Ferguson's early troubles at Manchester United are very well documented, but if you are looking for a more directly comparable example then look no further than David Moyes.

The Everton manager was tasked with rejuvenating a big club that lacked some zest and resources, and he has done a brilliant job. How different would it have been though had he been hounded out of Goodison after a 17th placed finish and club record low points tally in just his second season in charge?

If managers of that calibre needed that much time to achieve upward momentum, then what right have we to demand better from O'Neill?

Many will say that I have selectively picked favourable examples to support a transparently pro-O'Neill agenda. They will say that there are plenty of other examples of managers who have endured early struggles, been backed, and never turned it around. That second point is a perfectly valid and fair one, of course.

But I am not necessarily pro-O'Neill. I like him and I hope he succeeds, but he is only a manager. What I am fervently pro, however, is Sunderland AFC, and I simply can't see how failing to back a manager of proven track record during the same kind of early struggles that have plagued even the very best that history has to offer can be even remotely in the club's best interests.

I am not all that sure just how big a groundswell of anti-O'Neill sentiment there is within the Sunderland support. There is some, unquestionably, although at the moment those advocating a managerial change appear to be very much in the minority.

All the indications are that Ellis Short is committed to backing his manager, though. I hope that commitment is strong because there is a good chance that it may get worse before it gets better, but I remain steadfast in my confidence that it will be rewarded in the end.

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