Ruthless Short playing dangerous game

FanZone blogger Michael Graham says the sacking of Martin O'Neill at Sunderland is a reckless play by Ellis Short in a very high-stakes game.

Last Updated: 31/03/13 at 13:41 Post Comment

Martin O'Neill: Axed on Saturday night

Martin O'Neill: Axed on Saturday night

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At lunchtime on Saturday, many Sunderland fans at The Stadium of Light were digesting the programme notes of the club's owner Short.

They read as the American expressed his belief in unity and implored everyone at the club to "stand shoulder to shoulder" in support of the team.

"I can assure you that every person at the club is doing everything they can to ensure that the season ends on a positive note and when the season is over, we can take stock of what happened," insisted Short.

"Right now, however, there is only one thing that every one of us should be focused on, and that is doing our part whatever that is in helping this team to get the points we need.

"It is important for us all to be on the same side and get behind the team. Not being together will not help us to get results, so let's stand shoulder to shoulder and give the team our full support."

On Saturday night, and with nothing but a defeat to the champions-elect in between, those same Sunderland fans were left reeling by news that O'Neill had been sacked.

I do have some sympathy for Short's position. He has, without question, been a brilliant benefactor for Sunderland and he continues to put his hand in his pocket whilst seeing little tangible progress. Perhaps what we are seeing is a man's patience finally run out.

After all, for all results have been - to say the least - choppy of late.

Despite that, however, it shouldn't be forgotten that we are talking about a manager here who has not completed a full season in charge on Wearside. He will argue that he never actually got round to building a team upon which he could be fairly judged because he was never allowed to get beyond the dismantling of the old one.

Some have suggested that O'Neill has lost his magic touch or natural enthusiasm for the game. Others that he has been lost at Sunderland without his long-time assistant John Robertson for the first time. Many have even suggested he is just a man out of touch with the demands and sophistication of the modern game.

Perhaps there is an element of truth in all three. I guess we'll never know now. One thing is for sure, though: to gamble away a manager of O'Neill's pedigree and passion on what very could well be little more than a roll of the dice looks like a ruthless, perhaps even reckless, play by Short in a very high-stakes game.

But I suppose the real point here is that the decision to relieve O'Neill of his duties can probably no longer be based upon the future. What he might have gone on to achieve has been rendered immaterial. A luxury the club can no longer afford.

All that matters right now is surviving this season. We are talking about the survival of the fittest and, whether or not the Northern Irishman fits into that, he has forced the Sunderland board to ask the question, and the moment you start inviting scrutiny upon yourself in any line of work you are asking for trouble.

That said, I can't say that I am personally happy to see O'Neill fall on his sword. For me he was the right fit for the club and I was desperately rooting for him to succeed.

Furthermore, I can't say I am especially happy about the penchant my club seems to be getting for becoming a little trigger-happy with managers. This latest dismissal means that Sunderland have made a managerial change in four of their six seasons since returning to the Premier League under Roy Keane.

Is it any wonder that the club have been stripped of just about all of their on-pitch identity in that time or that fans are starting to feel and increasing disconnection from the club? It is tough to build anything when you keep on firing the architect before he can get much past laying his foundations.

I may feel differently if there was a stand-out available candidate to replace him. It is, however, difficult to cast your eyes down a list including names like Steve McClaren, Alan Curbishley, Mark Hughes and feel anything but dread about an impending announcement.

The plan is, of course, breathtakingly simple. Grab a new manager, squeeze just enough out of the fabled new-manager bounce to nick the couple of wins and odd couple of extra points required to stave off the threat of relegation, then with the new TV money in the coffers and a squad cleared of deadwood, throw it all at the new man to effect the summer of wholesale changes that will finally cement the Black Cats in or around the top half of the table.

It all sounds great. Yeah, sign me up for a piece of that. Can't wait.

But not many plans tend to go smoothly at this stage of the season and the margin of error at Sunderland is perilously small.

How this one will play out will no doubt make for fascinating viewing. I didn't see this one coming and I certainly don't know where it is going. What I can tell you, however, is that sacking Martin O'Neill hasn't made me feel any more hopeful or confident about the task in hand.

Quite the contrary, in fact. I'm more worried than ever.

Follow Michael on Twitter at @Capt_Fishpaste.

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