Writer: J P Fear
Date:Monday May 25 2009
Make or break time for Martin O'Neill
Another season done and dusted and a strange season in was in many respects. First half well exceeded my expectations, second half fell well short of them. Which pretty much sums up my divided view of Martin O'Neill - is he brilliant or is he an idiot? A brilliant idiot perhaps, like one of those autistic types that can't tie their shoelaces but can solve hugely complex mathematical problems in seconds. After over three years in charge I really don't know, I still find MON an enigma.
Two top-six finishes must say something, the man is obviously doing something right, but whatever it is seems handicapped, dragged down, by MON's weaknesses - his timidy and lack of imagination in the transfer market, his schoolboy tactics and his almost insane team selections.
Last season I think his blank refusal to drop Carson cost us fifth place, since January he has persisted with the ineptitude of Heskey and Gabby and refused to return to the 4-3-3 system that worked so well. Meanwhile Sidwell, Gardner and Fonz remained bit-players. Perhaps Albrighton could have made a similar impact as the young Lee Hendrie. We will never know. Again we lost out to Everton for fifth, an Everton who were in crisis last summer, Moyes stalling on contract talks and the chairman offering to sell the club to any passing Arab or Russian billionaire. An Everton, moreover, who were without a recognised striker for half the season.
As far as the media are concerned we have had another successful season, (or over-achievement, as some of the London press claim), all down to O'Neill's genius. As fans we can see things a little deeper but also we feel things a little sharper, it is easy to be over critical. I remain happy with the general direction of the club, we only have to look at the shambles at Newcastle and the continued under-achievement of Spurs to see things could be a whole lot worse.
For me, and I am sure for many of you, this summers transfer activity and the 2009-10 season will once and for all decide my opinion on Martin O'Neill and perhaps even define his career as a manager. He himself called our exit from Uefa 'a debacle' and I'm pleased he used those words because our lame surrender to CSKA must have hurt him as it did us. He has stated time and again the need to enhance the quality of the squad, so he knows as well as we do what needs to be done. Everton may have been in crisis last summer but they still managed to buy Fellaini for £15m which is considerably more than Aston Villa have ever spent on a single player. Spending big doesn't necessarily bring results (ask Spurs or Man City) but then neither does 'bargain' buys such as Emile Heskey.
There will be numerous threads about who we should buy, what we need, the effect of losing Laursen and probably Barry, (nevermind the possibility of receiving a huge offer for Ashley Young) I'm not going into all that, I have written enough. It's time for you Mr O'Neill to finally define yourself as either a top manager or a talented but fatally flawed one. He is hugely ambitious, he wants to be up there with Ferguson and Wenger and most of all his idol Brian Clough. Well Martin, to use a well-worn cliché, it's now or never.
I hope he realises it.
Date:Monday May 25 2009
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