MARTIN O’Neill is inching ever closer to becoming the next Sunderland manager.
The Northern Irishman has made it crystal clear behind the scenes that he wants the job – and if progress is made swiftly, then the could be announced as Steve Bruce’s successor today.
Even if talks stretch into tomorrow, the 59-year-old is expected to be Sunderland’s manager for the club’s game against Wolves on Sunday – though whether he takes his place in the dug-out or watches from the stands will be a decision for him.
Sunderland have moved with speed in the wake of Bruce’s dismissal on Wednesday afternoon and should, as expected, they get their man in time for the Wolves game, it will have been a tremendous effort to sort out negotiations and paperwork in double quick time.
There was contact with Mark Hughes’ representatives in the wake of Bruce leaving the club as Sunderland considered their options. But O’Neill was always the club’s first choice and negotiations have been smoothed by the fact that Sunderland want O’Neill and O’Neill wants to come.
Real progress was made in talks yesterday, the first full day after Bruce’s departure, and the last details are now being thrashed out.
O’Neill will make changes at the club and is determined to bring in his own staff as he looks to revive Sunderland after a turgid start to the campaign.
He has spent more than a year out of the game, having parted company with Aston Villa in August last year, and has clear ideas in mind about the fresh start he wants to make.
He will feel comfortable at Sunderland, the club he supported as a boy growing up in Northern Ireland when he idolised Irish centre-half and Roker legend Charlie Hurley.
And he will relish the challenge of fulfilling the hopes and expectations of Sunderland’s massive fanbase.
Much has been made about both owner Ellis Short and Martin O’Neill’s relationship with Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner.
H Turn to page 77.
O’Neill and Lerner fell out badly during the Irishman’s final few months as Villa manager and the suggestion was that if Short and Lerner compared notes, the ex-Villa manager might not emerge with too much credit.
But that has proved a dead issue with Sunderland looking at O’Neill’s long-term track record, the quality and character of the man himself and the fact that this appointment would mark a fresh start.
Certainly it would galvanise and unite supporters on Wearside, who have already welcomed talk of his appointment.
He is the person most fans would have named if they could have chosen an ideal man for the job.
And his arrival is certain to put thousands on the crowd attendance at the Stadium of Light next week for his first home game, the match against Blackburn Rovers.
Short has a fairly undeserved reputation for being ruthless in his decision-making, but he stayed behind Bruce for as long as he possibly could.
But he was concerned about dwindling attendances and the prospect of a real low for the Blackburn game if Bruce had stayed in charge and fans had voted in their masses by staying away.
Not only has that fear being removed with the removal of Bruce himself, but should O’Neill be appointed there should be the prospect of a full house to welcome the Irishman to Wearside.