clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roker Roundup: “I was absolutely not in charge” of Sunderland, claims Martin O’Neill

Martin O’Neill has been talking about his time as Sunderland manager, claiming that he “was absolutely not in charge because other people wanted to run the club”.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

O’Neill never in charge at Sunderland

Martin O’Neill was always high on the wanted list of Sunderland fans whenever the manager’s position was vacant but, when he eventually took the job, it never worked out for the boyhood fan of the club, and he was sacked after just 15 months.

During an interview with the Daily Mail, O’Neill was asked whether his mentor and former Sunderland striker Brian Clough would have been able to cope in the modern day era of directors of football and chief executives.

The Irishman said Clough would have found that difficult but went on to say that during his managerial spell at Sunderland - and Nottingham Forest - he was ‘absolutely not in charge’ as other people wanted to run the club:

I think he would have found that difficult! Jock Stein, the greatest manager Celtic have ever had, would have found that difficult. Bill Shankly, Don Revie — all of these people would have found it difficult. But you have to adapt. This idea that managers of a certain vintage don’t want to change is utterly untrue. You have to adapt, otherwise you go under.

I was in charge at Leicester, at Celtic, at Aston Villa, where the chairman of the club was Randy Lerner, whose father had owned the Cleveland Browns. He wanted to make his own mark on football and thought there were parallels between Cleveland and Birmingham.

He felt Villa was a club he could do something with, and he put me in charge.

But at Sunderland and Forest, I was absolutely not in charge because other people wanted to run the clubs.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Academy product discusses Sunderland spell

Sunderland academy product Gavin Donoghue is currently a sports scientist with Dubai-based outfit Shabab Al-Ahli, after a professional playing career did not pan out for the former Irish youth international.

The 31-year-old has been speaking with about his spell at Sunderland, Roy Keane and what happens to a young player when they are unable to make it.

Donoghue starts with advice for any aspiring young Irish footballers with plans on heading to England to be as ruthless as possible, saying that he did not expect his former team-mate Jordan Henderson to be as successful as he has been but the Liverpool captain’s mentality has taken him to the top:

What I’d tell any young Irish lad going across to England is to be ruthless, don’t be too nice. Rightly or wrongly, there are times when you’ll need a nasty streak to get ahead. That’s just the reality of it and it’s something I needed to learn. Going away from home so young, I was probably behind all the English lads in my mentality as a result.

I’d never have thought that Jordan [Henderson] would go on to achieve what he has. You’d look at him and think he had no chance of making it this far.

Back then he was smaller and weaker than everybody else, but the one thing you could always say about him was that he was so strong mentally. He backed himself all the way, firmly believing that he was going to be a footballer at the top level no matter how poorly he might have played on a given day. He’d just pick himself up and go again.

I was surprised when he got a move to Liverpool, but if you look at where he is now it just shows you the importance of being resilient. It’s great to see because he was always a great guy.

Talking about Keane, Donoghue says that the former Sunderland manager is far more harsh than he currently is as a TV pundit, believing one bad performance in a reserve game - in front of Keane - spelled the end of his career at the club:

As a young lad you’re bound to have the occasional dip in form but the one game I ended up having a real stinker in that year was for the reserves away to Blackburn, who fielded a lot of senior players.

Unfortunately for me, Keane came to watch that game and I think his mind was probably made up from then on. It was only a few weeks later that I was told there wouldn’t be a contract for me for the year after.

If you think Keane is harsh when he’s on TV, you can multiply that by 10 when he’s in the changing room. I’ve never been around anyone who has a presence quite like he has.

His standards were just so, so high. It wasn’t hard to see why he played at the highest level for so long and had so much success.

If a doctor has an off-day it could cost somebody their life, and that’s the way Keane saw football. You just couldn’t have an off-day with him.

Although he also points out that he turned down a loan move to Shamrock Rovers, for fear of taking a step backwards, and that is something that did not sit well with Keane:

Not long before I found out I was being released he called me up to his office and asked if I’d be interested in going on loan to Shamrock Rovers until the end of the season, but I said no.

I had that Irish thing where I thought I’d never get back to England if I went home. I saw it as a step backwards because I’d be living with my ma and da again, but really it was a step forward because I’d have been playing men’s football. If a team from League Two or the Conference came in I probably would have had a different mindset, which was wrong.

A few weeks later I was let go. I’d imagine Keane wasn’t too happy about the fact that he set something up for me and I refused it. That was the end of me at Sunderland, but looking back it was the best thing that could have happened. I can see now that it was for the best.

Near the end of his spell at the Stadium of Light, Donoghue had arranged a trial at Colchester United, with Kevin Ball accepting that he needed to set himself up for the following season and subsequently picking a team without the player.

However Keane stepped in and told Donoghue that he was expected at the reserve game, despite not being involved in the squad, which ended his chance of a trial at The U’s:

I was being released by Sunderland at the end of the season so I had arranged a trial at Colchester United, the problem was that I was due to play on the same night for the Sunderland U18s against Manchester City – I was 19 by then but you can play three over-age players.

I spoke to Kevin Ball, the U18 manager, and I explained that the best thing for me was to go down to Colchester because I needed a club for next season. He agreed with me so I thought it was all sorted. Then Keane called me the night before.

He made it pretty clear that he wanted me to be in Manchester for the game. He’s quite intimidating, especially for a young lad, so I was like, fuck, what am I supposed to do?

I ended up getting a lift down to the game the next day, but I actually didn’t even get kitted out. Kevin told me he had already named his team and preparations were all done, so instead of trying to earn a contract at Colchester I was watching a youth team game in Manchester.

You can read the full interview with Donoghue, where he also discusses the psychological impact of being released from your dream job and how players should preprare for life after a playing career, by reading the article on HERE.

Soccer - Sunderland Training Session - The Academy of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Trialist heads for League Two

Sunderland took Reading midfielder Tyler Frost on trial in February, as the youngster attempted to win a contract at the Stadium of Light ahead of his contract expiring at the Madjeski Stadium.

Frost featured in under-23 games against both West Ham United and Newcastle United but has instead signed for League Two Crawley Town.

Head coach John Yems told the club’s official website that Frost had also trained with his club prior to the lockdown and believes he could be a good addition to the squad:

He spent 3-4 weeks training with us before lockdown, he did well with us whilst at training, played at a good level before with Reading and once again he could be a good addition to the squad.

Reading v Crystal Palace - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report