Could Michael O’Neill or Heckingbottom transfer success to ailing Sunderland?
Slowly but surely a picture of what we might get from Sunderland’s new manager emerges. The desire to sound out Michael O’Neill over the vacancy offers context to a seach that has been protracted to say the least.
At times it has been exasperating. The longest papal election in history took three years, running from 1268-71.
Amid bitter factionalism, the cardinals eventually settled on a compromise candidate.
The wait went on so long, three of them died in the process. Another was so frustrated he resigned.
If the wait for white smoke above the Stadium the of Light has not quite plumbed those depths, then it has certainly been a long three weeks for anxious onlookers.
The brutal removal of Simon Grayson, just minutes after the 3-3 draw with Bolton, suggested the wheels were long in motion. Clearly, they were not. It puts pressure on Martin Bain to deliver an energising appointment, even if the financial restrictions he is working under make that difficult to deliver.
Should the delay lead to the appointment of Michael O’Neill, that will offer some explanation at least and, for many, an element of optimism.
His work with the Northern Ireland defence has been stellar, he has shown no little charisma in the process and the time has surely come for him to return to the daily process of club management.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Even given his recent success it would represent a gamble and that is where Bain and Short find themselves at this point.
It is a gamble worth taking.
For this protracted process to end with the appointment of, say, Ally McCoist would further puncture a mood on Wearside that is already too flat.
McCoist is out of work and eager to get back into the game, though you wonder, and hope, that the strength of fan reaction will deter the club going down that road. At such a crossroads moment, alienating fans further simply cannot be an option.
Then there is the Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom, a talented coach but one who, like O’Neill, neatly surmises Bain’s dilemma.
The obvious follow-up to interest in the former Sunderland man becomes, how does that differ to the appointment of Grayson?
It is a fair question, and should Heckingbottom make the switch he will face the same challenge as Grayson, his counter-attacking style not easily translated to the current Sunderland squad.
Nevertheless, his work at Barnsley has been nothing short of outstanding, overcoming constant overhaul of his squad and yet delivering consistently wellorganised sides who punch above their weight.
That suggests an excellent coach who is able to deliver a clear message to players, something that is certainly backed up by his excellent, eloquent approach to discussing the game in press conferences.
There is little reason to suggest he and Grayson have similar philosophies or approaches to coaching.
The same goes for O’Neill, unproven at club level but with an international record that has caught the eye and whose man management with an ageing group has been superb.
Whatever Bain decides, there is little question that is a defining moment in his time as chief executive. Ultimately, there is probably no solution that would be universally welcome, any candidate facing a fight to show that their endeavours elsewhere can lead to sucess on Wearside.
From the outside it has been a frustrating, slowmoving process.
It must yield the right result.
Chief executive Martin Bain (left) with former Sunderland boss Simon Grayson.
Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom