Lambert sure his ‘gaffer’ will get Sunderland going

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
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ASTON Villa manager Paul Lambert is sure his former boss Martin O’Neill will enjoy good times at Sunderland.

Lambert’s respect for O’Neill borders on reverence and the Scot still refers to the Irishman as “gaffer” in conversation.

The two men, so similar in terms of style and career progression, also find themselves currently locked in the same task – finding a way to galvanise a squad which is going through a stuttering run of form.

Lambert went into today’s game against Sunderland feeling that Villa’s 3-2 win at Swindon in the Capital One Cup midweek was an important step in his club’s revival.

And he is backing Martin O’Neill to turn the Black Cats around too.

“It might not be going entirely to plan for him but we have our own problems as well at Villa,” mused the 43-year-old. “He will know how to rectify it.

“He has been in the game long enough to know what is right and what is wrong.

“I’ve always said if you can get a smidgeon of his success, you will be doing all right.”

The former Scottish midfielder was at Celtic from 1997-2005 and played under O’Neill for the last five years of that spell, revelling in the success the manager brought to the green and white hoops.

He acknowledges O’Neill has been his mentor and says that the current Sunderland boss and former Borussia Dortmund manager Ottmar Hitzfeld are the two best managers he has ever played under.

And what has stayed in his mind is the transformative effect O’Neill had on Celtic’s fortunes, ending Glasgow Rangers’ dominance and ushering in a trophy-laden era of his own.

“He could just get the best out of people,” he said, looking back on that time. “That was his biggest thing – his man management was brilliant. At every club he goes to, he seems to turn things around.

“If you are going to follow him into a job, or just after him, it is really, really tough. I think he is a great football manager. A brilliant one.

“I can only speak for the five years I played under him which was absolutely fantastic.

“The club at that time needed someone like that to drive them back up and he certainly did that.

“It’s a huge club and we needed someone like him to drive it on and thankfully he took the challenge on.

“For me as a footballer, and I can only speak as that, I absolutely loved playing under him. It was brilliant. It was a fantastic era.”

Having followed O’Neill’s trail as manager of Wycombe Wanderers and Norwich City, Lambert has now taken on another of the Sunderland manager’s former clubs and says that his mentor was among the first to urge him to take the job on.

“I spoke to him before I took the job and he had nothing but praise for the football club,” he said.

“If I ever need any advice off him I can just pick up the phone.

“You learn from own mistakes and I haven’t spoken to him of late. You have to learn from your own mistakes and I make my mistakes, but you try to learn from them.

“I don’t know what happened with him during his time at Villa, it was prior to me being here.

“What I do know is he had Villa rocking when he was here and it showed. They just missed out on the Champions League and got to Wembley a few times. So that showed you the success he had here, unbelievable success.”