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How Was It For You? Views On Martin O'Neill From His Former Clubs

Martin O'Neill's the new man, but how is he thought of at his previous clubs? Let's discuss.
Martin O'Neill's the new man, but how is he thought of at his previous clubs? Let's discuss.

So Martin O'Neill's now in, and the feeling seems to be one of complete satisfaction among every fan I've spoken to so far. It's almost impossible to find a bad word against the man.

And rightly so, he's enjoyed success everywhere he's been, be it Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic, Aston Villa, with the only blot being a shot-lived spell at Norwich City, however he could well have been a success there given more time.

Since we're all pretty new to O'Neill, and he's been out of work for a while, I thought I'd speak with some fans of those teams to find out what life under the Northern Irishman was like.

Now let's introduce you to the cast of characters for this little feature...

Representing Aston Villa, we have our regular go-to-guy for all things Villa, Damian Dugdale of The Villa Blog.

Repping Celtic, we have Michael Gunn from the Celtic site Tic Tac Tic.

From Norwich City we have Philip Wright, friend of top Canaries site Holtamania.

From Leicester we have my Northern Leagues United padre and supremely talented artist Ryan Hubbard, whom you can find the work oh at Modern Football.

And representing Wycombe Wanderers we have Paul, the editor of the Wanderers fans site Chairboys On the Net.

Now I set them all a few questions about our new boss, so here's what they had to say...

When Martin O'Neill was first announced as the manager at your place, what was the reaction?

Wycombe Wanderers (Chairboys On The Net): O'Neill was appointed by Wycombe in February 1990. Although a well known name through his playing days, he was virtually unproven as a manager. Consequently, the a typical reaction to his appointment at Wanderers was to let's wait and see what he can do.

Norwich City (Philip Wright): I think it's fair to say the reaction was one of relative excitement. We had just been through a turbulent relegation from the top flight, culminating in some relatively violent protests outside of the stadium so the place needed a lift, and he was one of the few candidates who could have provided that. MON had been with us for two spells as a player and been extremely popular and we were all aware of what a good job he had done at Wycombe as we had played them in the FA Cup a couple of years before.

Leicester City (Ryan Hubbard): When O'Neill arrived at Filbert Street, I think there was an air of cautious optimism around the club. Martin had done a fantastic job at Wycombe Wanderers, but he hadn't had too much experience at Second-tier level. Previous managers Brian Little and Nark McGhee had left under bad terms, and Leicester fans were understandably unsure if it was the right appointment.

Celtic (Tic Tac Tic): The reaction is very easy to surmise - joy. It's more difficult to explain how fed-up the Celtic support were with the clubs board of directors. Prior to Martin O'Neill (who succeeded John Barnes at the turn of the millennium), Celtic had won just one Scottish Premier League title since 1988 - an almost unthinkable period of struggle. O'Neill was highly sought after in England, and Celtic were finally able to deliver an A-list manager to wrestle back the power. A really optimistic and unforgettable time.

Aston Villa (The Villa Blog): O'Neill was announced just as Randy Lerner was about to take full control of the club and we thought we had the next Abramovich, so there was a lot of hope that he was going to be given the funds and we were going to challenge. The reaction was extremely positive and we started to believe.

Was there any noticeable immediate impact on the way the team played?

Wycome Wanderers: As Martin O'Neill would probably remind people, a few weeks before his appointment at Wycombe, the team had lost 3-1 at home to Metropolitan Police in the FA Trophy so it was relatively easy to see an improvement. Most noticeable was organisation and improved team spirit. These factors quickly transposed to the terraces too, where he gained the confidence of the supporters.

Norwich City: As he was appointed during the close season that's a difficult one to call. Towards the end of 1994/95 we had been awful (Newcastle and Ipswich were the only two sides we beat in the league after Christmas!), and we started the season with an away win at Luton from which we assumed we would beat promoted straight away. Curiously, the first home game was against Sunderland - and we endured a horribly turgid goalless draw. This became the pattern for the whole of his spell with us - a great result or two, followed by a complete no show. One thing which should be said is that the football we played under MON was at best pragmatic in its quality. Over the previous few years - particularly in the period Mike Walker was in charge - we had played some scintillating football - but this disappeared. Whilst we never became route one we did rather overdo the long ball - especially bearing in mind we had in the squad a couple of dazzling, if horribly injury prone wingers in Darren Eadie and Keith O'Neill.

Leicester City: Upon his arrival, Leicester were top of the old Division One, and it took a little while for the squad to adjust to the managerial changes. A couple of short-term signings were drafted in, and City eventually finished fifth - winning promotion via the play-offs.

Celtic: O'Neill took with him a specific system that he'd carried over from his successful period at Leicester City. Out went John Barnes' flimsy 4-2-2-2 in favour of O'Neill's powerful 3-5-2. He inherited some top class players - the likes of Henrik Larsson, Lubomir Moravcik, Johan Mjallby and Paul Lambert, players whom Barnes couldn't get the most from them. O'Neill supplemented with few, quality players, spending a relatively large amount - to really establish his ideal system. Summer A-list signings Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeran and Alan Thompson (amongst others) were joined by Neil Lennon in that season's January transfer window, and that first group of players were the foundation for the rest of O'Neill's Celtic career. The calibre of player far outweighed any other team in Scotland (barring Rangers), so Celtic were able to dominate - simply through a mix of quality and brute force. A typical team would see three brutish centre-backs, wing-backs with either pace or delivery, two quality sitting midfielders, an attacking midfielder and a powerful forward partnering Henrik Larsson. But it was in Europe that O'Neill really excelled - culminating in the stunning run to the UEFA Cup final in 2003. The 3-5-2 was eventually rejected in favour of a 4-4-2, but certain elements remained: a penchant for dominating (if limited) centre-backs, and a style that marries counter-attacking football with an emphasis on set-pieces.

Aston Villa: Absolutely - they worked harder than they had ever done before and the tempo of the football increased. We became very focused and it paid off.

What would you say is Martin O'Neill's best quality?

Wycombe Wanderers: The ability to get the best out of any player is generally regarding as his major attribute. He seemed to have the knack to motivate the less confident players and keep an ego lid on any pre-madonnas. If they didn't follow the MON ethic they were shown the door.

Norwich City: He is clearly a motivator, and those who he likes and takes under his wing at all of the clubs he has been at have clearly benefited from that. The interesting thing is that this is clearly a quality he inherited from Brian Clough, even though the two of them endured a stormy relationship (MON I think got frustrated that Clough played him on the right of midfield when he wanted to be in the centre and as a result he eventually came to Norwich). Additionally, he is as stubborn as they come. He left Norwich after only 20 or so games - his relationship with the Chairman, Robert Chase (a man who's name I still find hard to type without swearing), was seriously hindered by what I will briefly refer to as the Dean Windass saga. To sum this up briefly, MON wanted to sign Windass but the club wouldn't give him enough money to do so. This was played out at great length through the Autumn of 1995 - it was clear as a club we needed an attacking midfielder/forward like Windass but the club wouldn't back MON. So MON said stuff you and went to Leicester as fast as his legs would carry him (as luck would have it we were actually playing at Leicester on the day he resigned so I assume he got the team bus!). We eventually got to find out that the reason Windass hadn't been signed was because the club had a crippling financial position which was getting worse by the day, and by March 1996 we were on the verge of bankruptcy.

Leicester City: During his time at Leicester, O'Neill had a knack for picking up bargains and making them play to their potential. Both Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage were plucked from Crewe in the lower leagues, whilst Muzzy Izzet was saved from rotting in Chelsea's reserves.

Celtic: His best qualities, the two most often cited by his former players, are: having a clear game-plan in any given situation and instilling an unquenchable desire to win. He isn't so much a tinkerer - his systems are well-drilled into his squad and rarely changed on the fly. Perhaps his most endearing quality is his infectious enthusiasm - the livewire on the sidelines - his persona is something you buy into and get behind - very, very popular with the fans.

Aston Villa: Martin O'Neill gets players to work for him and not stop. He gets them fired up and willing to chase everything down.

And what would you say is his biggest failing, be it in playing style, a particular type of player bought, whatever...

Wycombe Wanderers: It would be clutching at straws to pick fault in O'Neill's time at Wycombe but some might say that his fall-out with some players led to an unceremonious exit without any or little financial benefit to the club. The case of Steve Guppy leaving before the start of the 1994/95 for £150,000 being that petty example. Personally, I was happy for O'Neill to play it his way.

Norwich City: Well I've already hinted that the playing style was not all that - but I guess you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear! They do so a manager is only as good as the signings he makes and if that is the case MON would, for me, be rivaling Glenn Roeder and Brian Hamilton as Norwich's worst manager of the modern era. He only signed three players whilst he was with us - Matthew Rush, an incredibly average winger from West Ham who did his cruciates only a couple of weeks after he signed, only to carry on playing in the reserves and do them again (if that's possible!) - Robert Fleck, a City hero in his first spell, but having had three years doing nothing at Chelsea had clearly lost his sharpness. It also seemed as if he had been signed by the Chairman not the manager! - Keith Scott, to my mind the laziest, most bone idle player ever to play for the club. He'd been with MON at Wycombe and was signed from Stoke in a swap deal with Mike Sheron (who having been unable to hit the proverbial barn door whilst with us, never stopped scoring at Stoke). MON clearly liked him and he did score a couple of goals, but as soon as MON went Scott all but disappeared from the team and went off round the country on various loan spells. In saying all of that, of course MON had no money to play with so I'm being a bit harsh I think, but his tendency does tend to be to sign players he's worked with before so I expect to see one or two Villa players end up at Sunderland in January (you need a striker so how about Emile Heskey?!).

Leicester City: His spell in Leicester was highly successful and so, as far as I can remember, the Foxes' fans never really got to see anything about his management style which was particularly displeasing.

Celtic: Some have identified his Celtic as the best side since the 60's and 70's to watch, but when you're steam-rolling the majority of opposition - the end result is always sheer enjoyment. It was impossible not to love a side with players like Henrik Larsson and John Hartson firing on all cylinders. But there were cynics who didn't take to the largely route-one approach. Set-pieces were seen as a major way of scoring goals - getting the big guys up and delivering quality crosses. European football could be frustrating having to sit-back and hit on the counter or via long-balls. But the ends (however ugly) always justified the means. The second major failing was the "legacy" aspect. There was no real long-term vision (although how much of this was O'Neill's fault is up for debate). Over the course of the five seasons, O'Neill spent big early on - and spent wisely. But the final 2-3 seasons saw the purse-strings tightened and O'Neill never really had any success in the basement bargains, and he didn't trust youth.
The result was an overpaid, ageing squad; albeit with a fantastic history behind it.

Aston Villa: He has a few and I don't write this to try and put you off him, you'll figure these things out soon enough. His style of play is fairly one dimensional and his use of the squad is limited. He also has his pets - the players that he will play week in week out - you'll know who they are because he will bring them in in January and there is a good chance it will be a Villa player or two, because he sticks with what he knows. But you'll move up the table and because your owner will throw money at him (he wouldn't have gone unless he had money coming to him) he will move you up the table. Problem is, his style of football will only take you so far - but you'll figure that out in two or three seasons too.

Now he's long gone, how is his time at the club looked back upon by the fans?

Wycombe Wanderers: Legendary - his five years at Wycombe were the most successful period in the history of the Club. Three Wembley appearances (all of them successful) in the space of three years - promotion to the Football League and then an immediate promotion to the third tier were halcyon days for the Club. Attendances grew from around 1,500 at Wanderers old ground at Loakes Park to around 5,000 at the newly built Adams Park and many of Wycombe's current fanbase will be able to trace their first game to one under the Martin O'Neill regime. Even more than 16 years after his departure his time at other clubs is closely followed by many at Wycombe and he still retains many friends his time with the Wanderers. Any club under his guidance is looked on with envy as there is rarely a dull moment, especially if he is allowed a free reign with his programme notes!

Norwich City: A case of what might have been. We were very much in and around the play off positions when he left - once he went the momentum went out of our season, and players were sold to ease the financial position. The Dean Windass saga did open some people's eyes as to what was happening behind the scenes at the club, so that can only have been a good thing. By the end of the season the Chairman had gone, a wonderful man called Gordon Bennett had taken over as Chief Executive - and whilst he had to make a lot of people redundant he kept the club running. It would have been great to see MON as manager under Gordon Bennett, and actually get the right support from above. Legacy wise, for me MON will always be Norwich player first and manager second - I guess that's because the mid 90's are a time most Norwich fans would be only too happy to erase from their memories, especially after the dizzy heights of European football only a couple of years earlier!

Leicester City: Martin's time at the club was quite possibly the most successful period we've ever had. Three League Cup finals in Four years (winning two of them), and two UEFA Cup appearances mean that he is loved throughout the city. When Sven Göran Eriksson was dismissed earlier in the season, O'Neill was by far and away the fans' favourite for the job.

Celtic: Quite simply, O'Neill's Celtic made the biggest European impact in decades and since. On paper, his successor Gordon Strachan achieved similar results (in the Champions League) but no side since has managed to strike the kind of fear into the hearts of Europe's elite like O'Neill's marauding Celtic. It's these big mid-week nights that have stuck in the hearts of Celtic fans. Dumping Liverpool, and later Barcelona out of the UEFA Cup, or stunning a star-studded Juventus 4-3 in Turin in the Champions League. It's a tragedy that the cheating of Porto in the UEFA Cup final was what predominantly denied O'Neill the tangible reward he deserved, not that it makes much difference to the support. And there were equally impressive encounters in the Glasgow derbies, such as his debut 6-2 win. When current manager Neil Lennon took control of Celtic, he vowed to "bring back the thunder" to the club. There is no higher praise in that the thunder he described refers to Martin O'Neill's towering greats.

Aston Villa: It is mixed - some would have him back tomorrow because they see sixth as better than 8th or 9th when in reality, it isn't. Others accept that his football was only getting us so far and they were happy for him to leave, if only to give another manager a crack and hopefully one day get lucky. You wont win anything with O'Neill apart form maybe the League Cup and he will say all the right things to get supporters on side. You might be happy with the League Cup though and finishing 6th to 8th each season, but you never know, you might have the right American owner who will throw enough money at him to buy the league - but as we learnt soon enough, American owners are only here for what they can get out of it and when the cash ran out at Villa - he threw his toys out the pram and left. Overall - a manager that gets the best out of the players he has and likes them to hit long and to the wings - you'll be happy with it for a season or three but when the money dries up or you get bored with the fairly one dimensional football, you'll want a chance - if only because football is about winning something more than the League Cup.


So it seems that pretty much everywhere fans have been delighted at first with his appointment, which checks out here too. Also everyone has spoken of his motivation, again something we expected and also something we need desperately as the team looks just shot of all confidence. Not to mention his ability to get the most out of mediocre players, which seems a recurring theme, and something our squad is packed out with.

It also suggests we're in for some direct play, flying wingers, long ball's, big man up front... to be honest though, that sounds very familiar of the glory days under Peter Reid. If O'Neill can get us anywhere remotely close to that, I think we'll all be more than satisfied.


Once again, many thanks to the writers who helped us out here today. So visit the links in the opening paragraph, plus follow them all on Twitter - @AVFCBlog, @Holtamania & @Wrighty2902, @Tic_Tac_Tic, @Ryan_Hubbard

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