Nottingham Forest fans, you should not be happy with O'Neill appointment
Martin O'Neill has been appointed as the new Nottingham Forest manager.
And the positive reaction online from most Forest fans tells you two things about football supporters.
Firstly, they are suckers for nostalgia. O'Neill is a Forest legend. In 10 years at the City Ground, he made 371 appearances and was part of the side that won the league title and two European Cups under Brian Clough.
It would be a great story if he could be the man to end their almost 20-year exile from the top flight. They are currently in ninth place in the Championship, four points from the playoff places after spending big in the summer transfer window.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 15, 2019
The positive reaction to the appointment also shows how insignificant Irish football is to those across the water. If any Forest fan had the misfortune to endure a Republic of Ireland match during 2018, they would be filled with dread, not hope. But Irish fans could barely stand to watch the team during O'Neill's final year as manager, so it would be asking a lot for a neutral to suffer through a game.
O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane brought much-needed emotional energy to the Ireland team and there were some brilliant nights - the 1-0 win over Germany in Dublin, advancing past Bosnia in the play-off for Euro 2016, the win over Italy at the tournament and beating Austria in the World Cup qualifier in October 2016.
He helped the team reach the largest European Championships in history, where 24 of the 53 Uefa nations qualified. But it then began to crash into nothingness.
According to Ireland defender Matt Doherty, O'Neill's tactical approach, when Doherty was in the squad, didn't extend far beyond naming the team and telling the players to go out and play and "a few set pieces here and there". There was little coaching or work on team shape and very little detailed instructions.
Shay Given, meanwhile, admitted that they did no preparation to stop the opposition.
Before playing Germany in October 2014, Aiden McGeady had to ask a coach what position he was supposed to be playing in. The manager had merely read out the starting lineup and left the rest to his players.
— Robert Redmond (@RobRedmond10) November 21, 2018
O'Neill didn't name his starting 11 until an hour before kick-off for some games. Cyrus Christie, a full-back, started in central midfield for competitive matches in the Uefa Nations League. Christie last played in the position when he was a teenager. It was bizarre and confusing, like so many of O'Neill's selection decisions.
He substituted Ireland's two defensively minded-midfielders in the World Cup play-off second-leg, leaving Christian Eriksen with the freedom of the pitch. After the game, the Denmark manager thanked him for doing so. The team leaked goals from set-pieces and the players looked lost on the pitch.
O'Neill was beyond reproach though, batting away questions with a spikiness as he reeled out Brian Clough anecdotes.
The man who signed Chris Sutton, John Carew, Marlon Harewood and Emile Heskey for Aston Villa (who scored 70 goals in 290 games between them for the club) complained about not having a "natural goalscorer" at his disposal.
The fact Ireland struggled to string three passes together under him and didn't create any goalscoring chances didn't seem to enter his mind.
1 - The Republic of Ireland scored just one goal in the 2018 UEFA Nations League; only San Marino (0) scored fewer, while the Irish also attempted fewer shots than every other team (22). Departure. pic.twitter.com/FU2sWJplzU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 21, 2018
Some might brush this off because Ireland's squad has no world class players and therefore supporters shouldn't expect miracles. However, that is ultimately an argument against O'Neill being the manager of Ireland or Forest, not a defence of his approach.
Average players need coaching and instructions to stop them from being exposed and to make them more than the sum of their parts. O'Neill did neither. He frequently suggested that he had been dealt a poor hand with the squad, but it was the players who were short-changed.
If Forest fans still aren't convinced that O'Neill is a manager past his best, look beyond his spell as Ireland manager to his time in charge of Sunderland or Aston Villa.
Like with Ireland, O'Neill took over at Sunderland with the team at a low ebb and made an instant impact. The club moved away from relegation trouble and O'Neill briefly got the players to perform above expectations. It then crashed into nothingness.
Like with Ireland, the football played by the Black Cats wasn't "good" or "bad." It didn't look like they played any football. They resembled a shapeless blob of players in a zombified state, devoid of the right coaching and the level of tactical detail required in 21st-century top-level football.
Like with Ireland, he complained that the squad lacked quality. When O'Neill left in March 2013, Sunderland hadn't won in eight games. (Ireland had won two of his final 12 competitive matches as manager).
O'Neill apologists will argue that Sunderland were a basket case in the Premier League and have dropped down the leagues in the years since the Derryman departed. But that's because the club was run poorly, rather than because they lost something tangible as a result of O'Neill's exit. Replacing him was one of the few things the club got right.
Many Villa fans won't remember him with much fondness either, despite the club regularly finishing in sixth-place during his reign. He spent an absolute fortune at the club - £120m and a net spend of £81m - and the wage bill skyrocketed. O'Neill left a couple of days before the 2010/11 season started.
Again, some might argue that Villa would love to be back in the position they were under O'Neill. However, Lerner cutting his spending, rather than O'Neill's departure, is the key reason Villa fell from grace in the years after he left. He was right to try to curtail O'Neill's transfer dealings, as the case of Habib Beye proves.
Beye was a few months away from turning 32 when he signed from Newcastle United for £2.5m on wages of a reported £42,000-a-week. When Villa cancelled his contract in 2012, the full-back had made just nine league appearances for the club. The Birmingham Mail reported that his time at the club cost Villa £9m. Is it any wonder Lerner sought to limit Villa's transfer dealings?
Yes, the 66-year-old experienced success with Leicester City in the 1990s and Celtic between 2000 and 2005. However, that was a long time ago and football has moved on. There is a shelf-life for top-class footballers, which is why Wayne Rooney is currently playing in MLS and not for Manchester United. The same applies to managers, they can enter decline.
Top-level footballers now want and need to be coached, they need detailed tactical instructions and a plan to help them win games and improve. O'Neill's laissez-faire approach on the training ground - from what past players detail - and his tired Clough tribute act, has long lost its effect.
Maybe he will have a chance at success with Forest if he employs a young coach with progressive ideas to do most of the coaching, which would rule out a reunion with Keane.
But his time at Ireland and Sunderland suggests that O'Neill is yesterday's man and the defence of him by some within the football media is borderline insulting to the intelligence of supporters of these teams. Football fans aren't stupid.
However, as Sutton and others within the British media have shown over the past few days, O'Neill knows how to keep some onside.
The Nottingham Post claims that he impressed Forest's owner with his "enthusiasm" during his interview. The former Leicester manager evidently hasn't lost his ability to impress those who embellish reputations and those who make the big decisions in football.
But some fans have long seen through him.
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) January 14, 2019
Sam Allardyce is often cited as the archetypal Proper Football Man out of touch with the modern game. But that tag should belong to O'Neill. Allardyce at least coaches his players, gives them detailed instructions and works on a plan to stop the opposition.
Unless O'Neill has changed the habits of a lifetime in football management and takes a different approach than that detailed by some Ireland players, don't expect that to happen at Forest.
He may have a short-term effect though as he often does. It could even be enough to get Forest into the play-off places this season. But it will eventually crash into nothingness and they will be back at square one.