MARTIN O’Neill is expected to be named the new manager of Sunderland today.
O’Neill was a Sunderland fan in his youth and former chairman Niall Quinn tried and failed to make him his first managerial appointment in 2006.
The former Northern Ireland midfielder turned down the job, causing Quinn to turn to Roy Keane.
Instead, Quinn’s replacement as chairman Ellis Short looks set to bring the 59-year-old to Wearside.
Having waited until Wednesday to part company with Steve Bruce – most likely to sound out alternatives – owner Short has been quick in selecting his replacement.
The Journal understands Sunderland also talked to Mark Hughes’ representatives before deciding to opt for O’Neill.
His fondness for the Wearside club stems from his idol Charlie Hurley, a compatriot and Roker Park legend.
O’Neill’s managerial career has been characterised by a pickiness in choosing jobs, suggesting assurances over the club’s ambitions – and transfer warchest.
Bruce had been planning for the upcoming transfer window expecting to buy to sell.
Having allowed his manager to break the club’s transfer record two summers running – for strikers Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan – spending was reined back in the summer.
Although ten senior players joined, Nicklas Bendtner was on loan and most of the rest came on, by Premier League standards, paltry fees.
In hindsight, it was perhaps an indication of Short’s waning faith – he refused to fund a bid for chief summer target Charles N’Zogbia – rather than a longer-term strategy.
Former European Cup winner O’Neill began his managerial career in non-league with Grantham Town, Shepshed Charterhouse and Wycombe
Wanderers. Taking the Chairboys into the Football League began the process of building a glowing reputation.
He was long linked with a move away, but resisted until the right job came along. When he did finally leave, for Norwich City in June 1995, it proved a bad choice.
He left after six months, joining Leicester City, where he won the League Cup twice – taking them into Europe both times – and was runner-up once. Between 1997 and 2000 the Foxes never finished outside of the Premier League’s top ten.
At the end of 1999-2000 he left for Celtic, another club close to his heart.
The Bhoys had just finished 20 points adrift of Rangers but in his first campaign they won a first domestic treble since 1969. O’Neill was the first manager to take Celtic into the Champions League, something he would do twice more.
They reached the 2003 Uefa Cup final, losing 3-2 in extra-time to José Mourinho’s Porto.
After five seasons, he resigned to care for his wife Geraldine, who was suffering from cancer.
Following a year out, he returned to the Midlands with Aston Villa, leading them to a League Cup final and three consecutive sixth-place finishes.
While Bruce complained about unrealistic expectations at the Stadium of Light, O’Neill encouraged them.
At his unveiling he said: “It is nearly 25 years since they won the European Cup but that is the dream.”
They had to make do with Intertoto and Uefa Cup campaigns, failing in 2009 to qualify for the group stage of the rebranded Europa League.
As at Norwich, his departure was due to a dispute over transfer funds, anxious to reinvest some of the proceeds of James Milner’s sale to Manchester City on Scott Parker.
O’Neill turned down the opportunity to return to Leicester, now one of the richest clubs in the Championship.
He was the only non-English candidate interviewed for the England job in 2006.
O’Neill later said he would have taken it, but lost out to then-Boro manager Steve McClaren.
Like Bruce, O’Neill has a backroom team who follow him around.
Former Nottingham Forest team-mate John Robertson is his long-time assistant, and Steve Walford another coaching ally.