KIERAN SHANNON: Liverpool and O’Neill the perfect match

Last summer at a sports conference in Liverpool’s John Moores University, Chelsea’s director of football operations, Mike Forde, recounted a conversation he had with Billy Beane of Moneyball fame.

Forde was Stateside on a fact-finding mission, and while meeting the Oakland A’s now celebrated general manager, he told Beane he’d also be visiting the Boston Red Sox.

Beane could only smile. He had once sat down with the Red Sox too, a meeting now immortalised in the Moneyball film, when Beane, played by Brad Pitt, talks to the Red Soxs’ owner, one John Henry, now owner of Liverpool FC.

Henry was trying to poach the visionary Beane away from the wildly under-resourced and over achieving A’s and though Beane would ultimately resist Henry’s overtures, he couldn’t but be impressed by the Red Sox and their owner.

Most franchises, Beane found, were one of two things: either they had intelligence or they had money. “The Red Sox have both,” Beane would tell Forde. “Those guys are the worst evil.”

For over a decade Manchester United were English football’s worst evil.

Forde’s employers, under Jose Mourinho, seemed all set to replace them only for Roman Abramovich to develop a self-destructive penchant for firing and hiring managers. Now, with a title under their belts and Roberto Mancini’s authority more secure, Manchester City could become that worst evil.

Yet as much as City’s spending power in particular could deny Henry’s soccer franchise from enjoying the kind of status his Red Sox enjoy at home, there’s more Liverpool and their owner could be doing to maximise their chances and make them a real contender.

Daniel Comolli with his Beane-style Moneyball methods may have been discarded but there’s a prospect that Liverpool could again try to be too clever and youthful for their own good.

We were astonished last Sunday by reports speculating that Roberto Martinez would succeed Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool manager. And all the time we couldn’t help thinking, to the point of almost laughing: just what has Martin O’Neill got to do to get a shot at managing a top, top club?

Martinez is undoubtedly a progressive and impressive young manager, while Dalglish is clearly a struggling older one.

Should Dalglish go, either by choice or not, or either this summer or not, his replacement should be the same man who cleared up the mess Dalglish both inherited and left behind at Celtic a dozen years ago.

For all his promise, surely Martinez is still too unproven for a job such as Liverpool.

If it was too big for Roy Hodgson who has managed Inter Milan and now England, what chance has a man who has only managed Swansea and Wigan?

Everything Martinez has ever done O’Neill has done time and time again and much more besides, at Wycombe, Leicester, Sunderland where his first two months were just as impressive as Martinez’s last two with Wigan.

With Celtic he won titles galore, brought them to a Uefa Cup final beating top teams — including Liverpool — en route, made them virtually unbeatable at home in the Champions League.

He makes average players good, struggling players feel like world-beaters again. If Henry and Co still want to hold on to that £35m investment, who better to get the most out of Andy Carroll than the man who galvanised Chris Sutton and John Hartson?

With Villa he made them a consistent top-six team.

Martinez turned down the Villa job last summer and we suggest he shouldn’t this year because that’s his ideal apprenticeship and level for now; see if he does as well as O’Neill.

You think of how close his Celtic pushed Mourinho’s Porto that night in Seville nine years ago and the clubs the two managers have since got to work with. Once upon a time O’Neill was touted as Fergie’s successor, but he’ll never get the United job now.

Liverpool is made for him. He has that bit of Shankly-like madness and while he has a reputation for playing a brand of football that wouldn’t be perceived as the “Liverpool way”, it’s unfair; O’Neill’s teams over the last dozen years haven’t played that less attractive football to that served up at Anfield over the same period, and that’s with not even half the financial resources.

One of the infuriating things about observing the careers of Premier League managers, is how top coaches seem to hit a career ceiling.

David Moyes continuously does miracles at Everton yet has to watch the latest trendy foreign manager get a crack at the Chelsea job. Harry Redknapp had to wait an inordinate amount of time to get a crack at a job like Spurs.

He was unfashionable and mocked in some quarters at the time of his appointment but it worked out alright, din’ it? O’Neill offers Henry and Liverpool the perfect blend of experience and fresh thinking. To favour Martinez over him would make the worst evil of US baseball just the dumb little richman of English football.

* kieranshannon@eircom.net


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