MARTIN O’NEILL broke cover yesterday, via Sunderland’s website, to speak about his plans for next season.
He didn’t so much keep his cards close to his chest; rather they were still in the packet, as he remained tight-lipped regarding whether any transfers were near to being completed.
This should not have come as a surprise.
The Northern Irishman once told a group of reporters, at the beginning of his time at Celtic, that they could link him with any player in the world, and it wouldn’t bother him the slightest.
Because even if a signing story was bang-on and the player in question had actually been sitting in O’Neill’s office, the Northern Irishman would not have said a word about it.
That’s just not his style.
So while fans are desperate to hear the manager’s thoughts on who will be joining the club, that is something they won’t get from him until everything is signed, sealed and delivered.
However, at least O’Neill spoke at some length about the type of football he wants to see Sunderland play this season, which will be a high-tempo pressing game when they don’t have the ball, and a slick passing style when they have possession.
So far, so encouraging.
But, Sunderland supporters would have started to grow slightly uneasy about the lack of announcements coming from the Stadium of Light regarding transfers, of which they hoped would be many.
O’Neill admitted yesterday “the supporters have been very generous to me and have given me time” and they will continue to do so because they trust their manager knows what he’s doing.
His record rather demands that the club’s followers do back whatever decision he makes this summer ahead of next season.
O’Neill is now back at work and the players will return in the first week of July to begin their pre-season training.
Whether any new faces will be at the training ground on that first day remains to be seen, however, what will definitely be introduced to the existing squad is a style of football that wasn’t seen under Steve Bruce, certainly in the final months of his reign.
O’Neill said: “(The fans) are passionate, they want to see the team do well and compete. They want to see the players closing players down, hunting them and gaining the ball.
“Deep down, that’s what we all want to see – some really decent football, players parading their skills, enjoying it and giving them something to cheer.”
To play better football, Sunderland need to sign a certain style of player, while keeping a hold of Stephane Sessegnon who was by some distance the team’s star performer last time. Arsenal being one of many clubs linked with the playmaker.
That Sunderland will be well organised this upcoming season is unquestionable, but they need to score more goals, something O’Neill obviously doesn’t need to be told. He spoke about it enough at the end of the last campaign.
The deal to bring Steven Fletcher to Wearside is, the Journal understands, 75 per cent done and while he won’t be a name to get the fans dizzy with excitement, the striker has still scored 36 Premier League goals for two poor sides, Burnley and Wolves, over three seasons.
O’Neill does not have a huge budget to work with and that is why he has pinpointed the £10m-rated Scot as one of his two goalscorers he wants to sign. In these days of hugely inflated transfer fees for average players, he would have to go nearer the £20million mark to lure someone with a better record to the Stadium of Light.
It will be interesting to see whether his interest in Aiden McGeady has cooled given the winger’s poor European Championship, although O’Neill knows that the Spartak Moscow player is miles better than he showed for the Republic of Ireland during their three defeats.
Free transfers Carlos Cueller, Keith Andrews and Louis Saha are all a possibility and none really represent a huge risk, as long as the club accepts that Saha is never going to play 40 games in one season.
Sunderland head off to South Korea too play in the Peace Cup tournament in the second week of July and the manager would hope to have at least two new signings on the plane.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, however, the Black Cats fans will be happy and to hear their manager is back at work having lost none of the enthusiasm for the job he showed since walking into the club last December.
O’Neill said: “We will all come back refreshed and ready for pre-season. I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping we can do something.
“I think the supporters have got a fair idea of what we need to try (to do) and build the team.”