MARTIN O’Neill says the only way he will appoint an assistant this season is if long-term number two John Robertson wants to be part of his plans at the Stadium of Light.
O’Neill has worked without a deputy since taking over the role in early December, with first-team coach Steve Walford and goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh assisting the Sunderland manager.
But he told the Echo that he’ll be happy to continue shouldering the burden unless his former Nottingham Forest team-mate makes himself available.
“I’ve worked with John in the past and we work well together,” said O’Neill. “He’s followed me around before and he even followed me all the way to Celtic.
“But the way things fell, when I took over the job at Sunderland, his own personal circumstances with his family and their development meant it wasn’t a good time to uproot and come here.
“I think the same situation still applies for the moment and probably will do for the forseeable future. I’ve barely spoken to him over the close season - though that’s not unusual - so I don’t know exactly how things stand with him.
“But if circumstances were to change in the future then we’d look at things.
“As things stand, though, I’ve no intention of appointing anyone as an assistant if it’s not John.”
Robertson and O’Neill’s long association goes back to their playing days at Nottingham Forest in the 1970s when they spent a decade together in Brian Clough’s hugely successful Europe-conquering side.
The pair later enjoyed a successful journey together through management at Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa.
And although Robertson decided against becoming Black Cats’ number two last season, he was at several Sunderland games as well as being on the phone regularly to O’Neill with observations and advice.
So far though, the Scot has resisted the temptation to link-up again with his old pal and O’Neill says he’s fine with that.
“It’s not a problem for me,” he said. “John and I go back a long, long way but I’ve got good staff around me and if I need to discuss ideas or look for advice I’ve got the likes of Steve Walford and Seamus McDonagh who I’ve worked with for years.
“I’ve also got other good coaching staff at Sunderland who I can call on and have done already, so it’s not something that’s uppermost in my mind.”