Premier League: Sunderland Are Taking Massive Gamble with Martin O'Neill Sacking

Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 31, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Martin O'Neill manager of Sunderland looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland at Loftus Road on March 9, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Sunderland owner Ellis Short is not a man renowned for his patience when the going gets rough at the Stadium of Light.

Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane told The Irish Times (via Daily Telegraph) that his resignation in December 2008 had been a result of his deteriorating relationship with Short and then-chairman Niall Quinn.

Ricky Sbragia lasted almost six months before quitting after keeping the club in the Premier League; another Old Trafford favourite, Steve Bruce, was at the helm for two-and-a-half years before the Dallas-based businessman dispensed with his services in November 2011.

Now Martin O'Neill has been axed by Short after 16 months with Sunderland, the club he supported as a boy. For a successful businessman, Short does appear to have lost his acumen when it comes to his footballing strategy.

O'Neill is a master at the art of man-management. His successes at Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa were all based in the ethic he learned from his mentor, Brian Clough—getting the best out of limited players.

For O'Neill, though, this is a case of his heart ruling his head. The Sunderland supporter, who cited Roker Park legend Charlie Hurley as his favourite player of all time (via Daily Mail), worked his magic immediately after his appointment and won six of his first eight matches to lift the Black Cats away from the relegation zone.

But the former Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland midfielder was still not given a full season at the club to make the changes required.

O'Neill has also developed a reputation for butting heads with his chairmen, as Brian Quinn at Celtic (via The Sun) and Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner (via The Guardian) may be prepared to testify.

But Short backed O'Neill in the transfer market with the signings of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson for a combined total of £22 million in the summer followed by the arrivals of Danny Graham and Alfred N'Diaye for £8 million in January.

Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha also joined the O'Neill revolution last summer on free transfers.

Short might be displaying the behaviour of a "spoilt brat," according to former Reading boss Steve Coppell (via BBC Sport), but the bottom line is that Sunderland is the property of the American.

O'Neill's record before his departure was not a pretty one. The defeat by Manchester United on Saturday extended their winless run to eight matches and left the club one point above the relegation zone.

The ex-Northern Ireland international has not been helped by a number of out-of-form players with only Fletcher truly hitting the heights with 11 goals this season, while midfielder Craig Gardner has contributed six strikes and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has performed heroics.

Perhaps the single greatest disappointment to O'Neill was not having his long-term sidekick John Robertson alongside him at the Stadium of Light.

The former Forest winger had been assistant to O'Neill throughout his managerial career, but opted out of the move to Wearside for personal reasons (Sunderland Echo).

Akin to his mentor Clough, who lasted just 44 days at Leeds United without his long-standing No. 2 Peter Taylor, O'Neill was not the success he was with the former Scotland international by his side.

O'Neill has now moved on, and Short already has his successor lined up, according to Sky Sports, with names such as Paolo Di Canio, Steve McClaren and Roberto Di Matteo all currently looking for work.

Axing O'Neill, though, no matter what the circumstances, at this stage of the season with just seven games left is a huge gamble by the American.

But it is just a reminder of how high the stakes are for club owners with a new television deal worth £3 billion coming into play next season (via The Guardian).

Queens Park Rangers and Southampton made their managerial changes earlier in the season, while Reading appointed Nigel Adkins last week to succeed Brian McDermott in a bid to stave off the drop.

Sunderland, though, are a bigger proposition. Despite spending periods in the Championship before their current top-flight stay, they retain one of the most passionate and loyal fanbases.

No matter who comes in to replace O'Neill, he will receive the full support of the fans, but there has to be a certain sadness that Sunderland have lost "one of their own" fans as a manager.

But Sunderland supporters will need no reminding of what can happen when a club legend attempts to steer his team clear of relegation in just a few matches (via BBC Sport).