Martin O’Neill set to be ap­pointed Not­ting­ham For­est man­ager

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Daniel Tay­lor

Martin O’Neill is poised to be­come the new man­ager of Not­ting­ham For­est in a move that would re­turn him to the club where he won two Euro­pean Cups dur­ing the Brian Clough years.

Evan­ge­los Mari­nakis, the For­est owner, has held talks with O’Neill in Birm­ing­ham and Lon­don over the last 48 hours and the club are op­ti­mistic about fi­nal­is­ing a deal for the man they have iden­ti­fied as the out­stand­ing can­di­date to take over a team four points out­side the Cham­pi­onship play-offs.

If every­thing goes to plan, an an­nounce­ment is ex­pected to end a 25-year pur­suit for For­est that first saw them try to ap­point O’Neill as Clough’s suc­ces­sor in 1993. Var­i­ous regimes at the City Ground have sub­se­quently tried to en­tice O’Neill back to the club and he was promi­nently in For­est’s thoughts be­fore the ap­point­ment of Ai­tor Karanka last Jan­uary. Un­til now, how­ever, For­est have never been able to get their man.

Mari­nakis has sig­nif­i­cant trans­fer funds avail­able for the new man­ager and the Greek ship­ping mag­nate is un­der­stood to have been hugely im­pressed when he met O’Neill to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of fill­ing the void by Karanka’s de­par­ture last week. Sources say Mari­nakis, with firm plans to reestab­lish the club at the top level, was “blown away” by O’Neill’s en­ergy and drive to suc­ceed in the city where he first came as a young ap­pren­tice in 1971.

The hi­er­ar­chy at For­est have noted the way O’Neill won pro­mo­tion at Le­ices­ter City and trans­formed a sec­ond-tier side into one that se­cured four top-10 fin­ishes in the Premier League, reach­ing three League Cup fi­nals, win­ning two and lift­ing the club’s first sil­ver­ware since 1964.

O’Neill went on to win seven tro­phies for Celtic, as well as reach­ing the Uefa Cup fi­nal, be­fore re­turn­ing to English foot­ball to take con­trol at As­ton Villa, who fin­ished 11th, up from 16th, in his first cam­paign and then sixth in each of his last three sea­sons at the club, qual­i­fy­ing for Europe and, in 2010, the League Cup fi­nal.

The only down­side in his club ca­reer at man­age­ment goes back to his time in charge at Sun­der­land, the team he sup­ported as a boy, when he was sacked in 2013 af­ter a poor run of re­sults. O’Neill sub­se­quently took the Repub­lic of Ire­land job and led a will­ing but lim­ited group of play­ers to the knock­out stages of Euro 2016, where they were elim­i­nated by France. He also took Ire­land to the qual­i­fy­ing play­offs for the last World Cup, at the ex­pense of the Wales side that reached the Euro 2016 semi-fi­nals, but they lost to Den­mark and he left his po­si­tion last Novem­ber af­ter an un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign in the Euro­pean Na­tions League.

O’Neill has since faced heavy crit­i­cism from the Ir­ish me­dia about his style of play, whereas For­est have taken the al­ter­na­tive view that he in­her­ited

the least tal­ented group of play­ers the coun­try has pro­duced for many years and ac­tu­ally over­achieved to take them to a ma­jor tour­na­ment, beat­ing Italy and Ger­many, the world cham­pi­ons, in the process.

Mari­nakis was left with the clear im­pres­sion that O’Neill had the force of per­son­al­ity to give For­est a new im­pe­tus and, though the Ir­ish­man is 66, that is still younger than Clau­dio Ranieri, Neil Warnock and Roy Hodg­son, three man­agers work­ing in the Premier League. O’Neill’s en­thu­si­asm was a key fac­tor in win­ning over Mari­nakis and the club be­lieve there is time, with 19 games re­main­ing, for For­est to over­come a slump that has seen them win only one of their past seven league matches, leav­ing them ninth in the Cham­pi­onship.

As for O’Neill’s style of play, the feel­ing within For­est is that for the vast ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer there were sel­dom any com­plaints. At Villa, for ex­am­ple, his team scored more times, 71, in the 2007-08 sea­son than any other year since win­ning the league in 1981. O’Neill was ar­guably the most pop­u­lar man­ager in Le­ices­ter’s his­tory un­til Ranieri’s team won the ti­tle in 2016 and is still revered at Celtic.

Speak­ing last month, he said: “I know I’m a good man­ager and I will al­ways back my­self, in what­ever job I take next. There’s a per­cep­tion now that I’m not only too old, but that I’m on the out­side look­ing in. There’s an age el­e­ment to it, but peo­ple also be­lieve you’ve closed your mind to things. It couldn’t be far­ther from the truth. I’ve still got things to do in this game. I feel young, hun­gry.”

O’Neill, an in­te­gral part of the For­est side that won the Euro­pean Cup in 1979 and 1980, is seen as hav­ing the mo­ti­va­tional qual­i­ties to re­fo­cus the play­ers and staff at a time when Karanka’s drawn-out de­par­ture has led to a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty be­hind the scenes. Karanka’s fall-out with se­nior fig­ures at the club led to him ask­ing to be re­leased from his con­tract on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions last week. For the pre­vi­ous few weeks, play­ers have re­ported he had be­come de­tached and was tak­ing a less hands-on role. Train­ing is said to have de­te­ri­o­rated, lead­ing to a list­less 2-0 de­feat at sec­ond-from-bot­tom Read­ing on Satur­day, when For­est fin­ished with nine men be­cause of red cards for Danny Fox and Ten­dayi Darikwa.

As yet, it is not thought there are any plans for O’Neill to bring Roy Keane, an­other for­mer For­est favourite, back to the club. How­ever, O’Neill’s back­room staff is likely to in­clude Steve Guppy as he con­tem­plates tak­ing charge for the first time in For­est’s home game against Bris­tol City on Satur­day.

Martin O’Neill is poised to take over a Not­ting­ham For­est team four points out­side the Cham­pi­onship play-offs. Pho­to­graph: Niall Car­son/PA

Martin O’Neill, cen­tre, dur­ing his days asa Not­ting­ham For­est player. Pho­to­graph:Color­sport/Rex Shut­ter­stock

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