MARTIN O’Neill hopes he can do for Sunderland what he did for Aston Villa in his four years in charge of the West Midlands club.
O’Neill’s past, present and future collide at Villa Park when his current and his former clubs meet.
And though Villa have fallen from the heights he took them to prior to his departure in 2010, he hopes he can restore the Black Cats, just as he did the Villans.
O’Neill, pictured, took over a Villa side that had finished 16th in the table in 2006 and within two seasons had transformed them into a top-six side and taken them into Europe.
In O’Neill’s four years in charge at Villa Park they finished sixth three seasons in a row, qualified for either the UEFA Cup or its successor the Europa League three times and reached a League Cup final and an FA Cup semi-final.
Now he wants to take Sunderland on a similar course.
“To me, that’s the aim,” he said. “Whether we can do it or not is a different thing altogether, but it has be the aim.
“You want to have a bit of hope, desire and expectation.
“I honestly don’t see why you shouldn’t aim for those things – otherwise, why bother?
“The clubs are of similar stature. They are two very, very big clubs, with fine histories and they have massive support bases.
“Here at Sunderland the supporters are fanatical and are just willing something to happen.
“There’s no reason whatsoever why that shouldn’t be the case.”
O’Neill saw glimpses of how Sunderland fans could be galvanised and gripped by the game in the club’s run to the FA Cup quarter-finals – the Black Cats falling just short of a Wembley appearance when they were beaten by Everton in the last eight of the competition.
“The fans got a taste of it in that FA Cup replay against Everton, even though we didn’t do well enough in that game,” he said.
“I’m sure a lot of fans who have been turning up for years thought it was just one more disappointment, but I see that game as a starting point rather than an end.
“Those kind of nights are the kind of thing we want to experience a lot more of than perhaps the club has had in recent years.
“And I’ll make every attempt possible to do that.”