Simplicity Married to Intelligence as O'Neill Explains His Influences; Keep It Simple Is a Maxim Few Coaches Abide by Nowadays. Stuart Rayner on Sunderland's Back-to-Basics Manager
BILL Shankly once famously claimed football was "a simple game complicated by idiots". Martin O'Neill is not stupid enough to argue.
In an era of dossiers and individually-tailored DVDs, there is something refreshingly old school about O'Neill and his coaching team.
Sunderland's manager learned his trade under the legendary Brian Clough - never one for over-complication. It shows.
The Premier League fashion for sharp-suited, poker-faced managers has not yet extended as far as Sunderland. If today's opposite number, Swansea City's multilingual Brendan Rodgers, is the epitome of the modern "coach", his compatriot O'Neill, kicking every ball and jumping for every header in his rugby shirt and boots is very much a traditional "manager".
Not that it would be wise to underestimate him. O'Neill is an intelligent man - far too intelligent to blind his players with science.
"You can get bogged down, drive yourself mad with things so you've got to go and play yourself and so far that's what we've attempted," he says.
"Of course you've got to keep an eye on the opposition and try to work out a couple of their weaknesses and exploit your strengths. That's in the nature of things, maybe more so than 25 years ago. You've got to look after yourself. "If your players are going out in a frame of mine it's all about stopping the opposition you'll go nowhere."
Hardly surprisingly, there are parallels with the Clough philosophy.
"Mostly it was (about) your own game, to concentrate on your threat, mostly," the former Northern Ireland midfielder recalls. "I don't remember having dossiers on opposition teams. Very seldom.
"Probably the first time it really happened was when we played Hamburg in the (1980) European Cup final where they had Kevin Keegan and Manny Kaltz and a lot of really good players.
"We'd just lost Trevor Francis so it might be the first time he'd want to strengthen midfield with a young lad called Gary Mills, who had only played a few games.
"Both he (Clough) and Peter Taylor (his assistant) were worried about the game - as well they should be.
"So we ended up having (Garry) Birtles up front on his own, which is a bit of a modern trend, and we tried to stifle the midfield.
"Over the years I wouldn't remember too often at all he would spend ages talking about the opposition.
"It was about ourselves. His record was reasonably good with that!" That, though, was a long time ago, Clough's managerial pomp coming in the 1970s.
Now pre-match homework …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Simplicity Married to Intelligence as O'Neill Explains His Influences; Keep It Simple Is a Maxim Few Coaches Abide by Nowadays. Stuart Rayner on Sunderland's Back-to-Basics Manager. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Journal (Newcastle, England). Publication date: January 21, 2012. Page number: 90. © 2009 MGN Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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