Sometimes it is better in life not to get what you wish for as the fans at Sunderland football club are about to discover.
Many of them wanted a new manager in recent weeks as their team slipped down the Premier League table at an alarming rate, and on Monday they got their wish.
In case you missed the big news from England, the former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill, one of the most respected names in the game, was relieved of his duties after a defeat to Manchester United on Saturday.
The board at Sunderland – inspired by owner Ellis Short no doubt – decided enough was enough after a Robin Van Persie goal skidded off Titus Bramble to condemn the Black Cats to yet another league defeat.
Now, there is no disgrace to losing to Manchester United. Most teams in England’s top division have experienced such a feeling already this season, and now that their FA Cup hopes are over, killed at Chelsea on Monday, the league will be United’s within a matter of days.
Sunderland’s only apparent job last Saturday was to try and contain the best team in the Premier League, and they almost did it. What their players didn’t realize was the fact that they were also playing for their manager’s future.
They discovered that much late on Saturday evening when word first filtered out of Wearside that O’Neill was on his way to the dole queue.
That news was probably bad enough for many of the players brought to the club by the former Celtic and Aston Villa boss during his 18 months in charge, but worse was to follow when rumors of his successor’s identity began to emerge from the Short empire later that night.
As is usual with vacant jobs in English football at present, men like Mark Hughes, Alan Curbishley and Brian McDermott were linked with the job, but the one rumored candidate that really stood out was the Italian Paolo Di Canio.
Only a month or so ago the former Celtic winger, a hero during his time at Parkhead, quit League One outfit Swindon Town after a colorful time in charge there which included kicking a player up the arse for not trying hard enough, literally, and substituting a goalkeeper very early in one particular game.
Di Canio also has a checkered past thanks to his “fondness” for fascism and a rather Nazi-style salute at the end of a Rome derby during his time in Serie A.
That photo, which will haunt him forever, appeared in every major newspaper in Britain and beyond when Di Canio was confirmed as Sunderland manager late on Sunday night.
By Monday morning, excerpts from his autobiography outlining his right wing politics were trending on Twitter.
By Tuesday, when he faced the press for the first time as Sunderland manager, Di Canio had to repeatedly answer questions about his fascist tendencies and deny he is a racist, even though he had said he would only answer football questions at his inaugural press conference.
His reign has already caused the Labor Party politician David Milliband to resign from the Sunderland board over Di Canio’s fascist leanings.
Many war veterans in the north-east have said they will boycott Sunderland games as long as Di Canio is in charge.
And the Italian is adamant that he should be judged on football results and only on football results – in between denying he is right wing or racist!
All of which may have those Sunderland fans demanding Martin O’Neill’s head a week ago wondering what they have let themselves in for.
But their experience should not detract Ireland fans from wanting a new manager – particularly now that the same O’Neill is now available for work again.
Many years ago the FAI opted to put the rookie Steve Staunton in charge of our national team when O’Neill was forced to turn them down for personal reasons.
They wanted Martin O’Neill back then, and they need someone like Martin O’Neill right now.
The draw with Austria – when luck ran out finally for our lucky manager Giovanni Trapattoni – means the World Cup is already a foregone conclusion for this Irish team – with the emphasis on the gone part of foregone!
No matter how much Trapattoni and his players pretend it will all come down to the autumn games against Sweden and Austria, we will not be going to Brazil next year.
We might get to the playoffs, by a miracle, but that is as much as Ireland’s fans can hope for now as long as Trapattoni stays in charge.
He is an old coach now and his ways are spent. Sweden and Austria proved that last week, and all we can do now is wait for a new manager.
There’s no point thinking it is going to happen before the summer. The FAI can’t afford to get rid of Trapattoni before his contract expires in the autumn and he isn’t going to walk.
But at least there is another viable candidate in the frame now that Sunderland granted the wishes of their fans and got rid of Martin O’Neill. Their wish could yet be Ireland’s gain.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
SOCCER: Brian McDermott turned up at the Ireland-Austria game last week just to remind us all that he is still around and interested in the Irish job which will be vacant by the end of the year at the latest. By then McDermott is unlikely to be available as he is now one of the favorites to take over from Neil Warnock, who left Leeds by mutual dissension on Monday night. Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have also been linked with the Leeds vacancy, but Leicester is a more likely destination for Keane if my sources are correct.
HURLING: The GAA writers I know labeled the final round of league games last weekend as Super Sunday, and they had a point as all six teams in the top division flitted between the NHL semis and a relegation playoff. As it happens it was Kilkenny and Galway that proved the cream always rises to the top, and their semifinal meeting at the end of the month promises to be a cracker. It will also tell us who is going to win the All-Ireland this year. And my money is on Kilkenny.
SOCCER: Great quote from the Rangers manager Ally McCoist concerning his bid to sign the Irish striker Jon Daly from Dundee United on a free transfer. Asked about the controversy that is likely to surround an Irish Catholic signing for Rangers, McCoist remarked, “I couldn’t give a monkey’s where he is from. This is 2013.” It might indeed be 2013, but some of the reaction that would follow a Daly move to Ibrox will be very old school I fear. And it won’t be pleasant.
SOCCER: Lionel Messi broke another record at the weekend when he scored against Celta Vigo, meaning he has now scored against every club in La Liga this season and in consecutive games. The Argentinean is easily the best player in the world at the moment and will soon have an edition of the Guinness Book of Records all for himself the way he is going.
GAA: Nice to see Armagh’s All-Ireland winning boss Joe Kernan back in action as the manager of the great Crossmaglen Rangers again. Kernan turned them into a powerhouse long before he got hold of his native county, so expect to see Rangers dominate club football up north for many more years to come.
GOLF: Want an outside bet for the Masters? Put your money on Rory McIlroy. His decision to play in Texas this week proves he means business. And he loves a big stage – no matter what clubs he is playing with!
HERO OF THE WEEK
MICHAEL O’Leary is many things to many men, but the Ryanair boss had no hesitation in handing over $300,000 to the fund for injured jockey JT McNamara after his horse won the bumper at Fairyhouse on Monday. McNamara has been left paralyzed after a fall at the Cheltenham festival last month, and O’Leary’s gesture proves the man has a heart after all. Well done Michael, well done.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
THE board at Sunderland may have done the right thing by sacking Martin O’Neill on Saturday night, but appointing Paolo Di Canio in his place is certain to backfire on them. What Di Canio will make of our own firebrand James McClean is anyone’s guess, but there is bound to be a big dressing room bust-up at the Stadium of Light before the end of the season. And that’s only seven weeks away.