BLACK Cats fans and former players today issued a “hands off” warning over manager Martin O’Neill as football chiefs launched their hunt for the next England boss.
Italian Fabio Capello quit as the national manager this week after a crisis meeting with the Football Association (FA) at Wembley.
Under-fire Capello’s decision came just days after he publicly criticised the FA for stripping John Terry of the team captaincy.
Although Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp is odds-on favourite for the job, Sunderland boss O’Neill, despite ruling himself out of the race, is widely tipped at 6-1.
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew is 12-1 while ex-Magpies striker Alan Shearer is 33-1.
Ex-goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery, a hero of the 1973 FA Cup winning Sunderland team, said: “It’s about time we had a British or English manager, but as long as they keep their hands off Martin O’Neill.
“He’s happy here and we are happy with him.”
The Wearside legend believes that it shows the strength of football in the North East that both Sunderland and Newcastle managers have been linked with the job.
“It’s great that they are coming up as contenders, but as long as they leave O’Neill alone,” he said.
There are also concerns that the 59-year-old Ulsterman, who watched his team beat Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this week, will be on Spurs’ radar if Redknapp leaves.
George Forster, chairman of the SAFC Supporters’ Association, said: “Redknapp would be my choice for the England job as long as Tottenham keep their hands off our manager.”
But despite concerns, super-fan Gary “SAFC” Lamb, who was “chuffed to bits” when he heard of Capello’s resignation, doesn’t think the FA will turn O’Neill’s head
“I don’t think O’Neill will go,” he said. “He is a very loyal man, so I really don’t think he would leave us. He is also a Sunderland fan.”
Former defender Richie Pitt, another hero of the 1973 FA Cup final, said: “I really hope he doesn’t leave Sunderland. He is doing such a good job here. I’m very impressed with him.”
Martyn McFadden, editor of the A Love Supreme football fanzine, believes that if O’Neill was to take over at international level, it would be for Northern Ireland rather than England.
“The England job is a poisoned chalice,” he said. “O’Neill is too intelligent to take that job.
“If he was to go anywhere, he would be more likely to take the Northern Ireland job, if he were to go into international management.
“Obviously, he is bound to be linked because he is the best manager around.”