MARTIN O’Neill confessed yesterday that he hasn’t had a proper night’s sleep for 20 years.
Football management does that to you. Stress and worry also help with keeping the weight down, according to O’Neill who, to be fair, doesn’t look to have put on more than a few pounds since his playing days at Nottingham Forest.
Robert Di Matteo is better off out of it. Especially as he was ushered out of the Chelsea door by Roman Abramovich with a few million quid in his back pocket.
There are worse ways in which to lose a job. Is there a better way?
O’Neill would have expected to be asked about Di Matteo yesterday given the nature of his sacking in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The obvious follow-up question to that was whether O’Neill has ever feared a tap on the shoulder from Sunderland owner Ellis Short.
On this issue, he was a bit more elusive with his answer.
O’Neill said: “In a game where you should not be shocked at anything, that (Di Matteo’s sacking) was a major surprise.
“Less than three weeks ago we were talking about Chelsea playing brilliant football, about them being really inventive having signed some really big players, then they had a hiccup over a couple of matches and a man loses his job.
“They won the Champions League and FA Cup while he was in charge and he did very well, so it was a major surprise. It is a difficult job, but I think anybody in or outside the game would say that is a major surprise.
“We have to admit we are in a result business, but from my point of view you have to look at results over a longer period of time. I would talk about a season.”
O’Neill was then asked whether he was glad Short was not the type, so far, to pull the trigger after a run of bad results, which Sunderland were on until last Sunday’s win at Fulham.
Indeed, until Sunderland win four or five matches it could still be said they are on a bad run.
O’Neill said: “We have won a game (against Fulham) and I’m delighted that will restore some confidence.
“But not for one second do I think we do not have to work exceptionally hard to win games because nothing will be given to us. It has been a tough time, but nothing I didn’t expect.
“We needed to get into a position where we were among 12 clubs who felt it was tough-going until we got points on the board.”
That is an O’Neill way of circumnavigating the question. It is something he does very well, to be fair.
Sunderland play West Bromwich Albion, currently fourth in the Premier league, tomorrow at the Stadium of Light in the day’s early kick-off.
The manager looked more like himself yesterday. Gone was the frown which had accompanied him everywhere for the past month or so, although he wasn’t quite laughing and cracking jokes, despite Sunday’s win in London.
Asked if he had slept easier after the 3-1 win at Craven Cottage, O’Neill said: “I am not so sure I have slept well for 20-odd years. The result was important, of course, as there was no point playing as well as we did at Everton and get nothing.
“We had to win. We played well at Fulham and scored some great goals; it was just a big boost in confidence more than anything else.
“Someone to me recently, ‘how come you don’t put on weight?’ I said ‘I just worry for everyone’, no problem.
“Winning was not a vindication. You have to realise that during the course of a season there will be periods where things are not going so well and you have to come out of them. Then there will be others when it is going well and you look forward to every single game.
“You have to take a more balanced view of it and it is where we are at the end of the season that counts.”
So can Sunderland do something they have not achieved since February, with victories against Norwich then Stoke, which is to win successive Premier League matches?
O’Neill said: “It’s important for us to build on Sunday.
“There is no point scoring some great goals to win a game, feel terrific on the day, the day and maybe two days after, and then finding out you don’t compete next time – and if we don’t compete against West Brom we will lose.”
Of the many positives from last weekend was Steven Fletcher getting among the goals again, the Scot contributing a fine finish for his side’s opener.
O’Neill said: “You are always judged on goals as a centre-forward and the goals he has scored have been very important. His goal on Sunday was brilliantly taken.
“Steven’s overall play has been excellent for us and, while he hadn’t scored for a while, he led the line brilliantly and we need to create more chances for him to keep his goal ratio in reasonable condition.”
And there was what has become the weekly pat on the back for captain Lee Cattermole, who has been terrific of late – even if O’Neill joked that even the player himself was surprised not to react to the challenge on him by Fulham’s Brede Hangeland, which earned the defender a first-half red card.
The manager said: “Lee is a great captain.
“He is very good in the dressing room with the players for one still so very young it is a commendable attribute.”