Footballers have a phenomenal life, says Martin O'Neill

 

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has admitted every day is like Christmas Day for a professional footballer.

The Black Cats, like clubs around the country, will forego part of the festivities as they prepare for their Boxing Day clash with Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City.

However, 60-year-old O'Neill insists that is a small price to pay for the life modern-day players lead.

He said: "It's the most phenomenal life you could get, particularly if you have a couple of years where you can be successful.

"I was lucky enough to be involved in a Nottingham Forest team which ruled Europe for a couple of years, so that was really fantastic.

"But any professional player has got to really enjoy it. You are being paid to keep yourself healthy and fit and if you don't have any major serious injuries, which are obviously more than a bit of a setback and terrible to endure, then it's a great career."

O'Neill added with a smile: "Any of those players who fancy going into management, I give them one piece of advice: forget about it."

The Ulsterman was in positive mood as he drew up his blueprint for a game which last season presented him with one of his most memorable days in the job to date.

It was New Year's Day when Roberto Mancini's all-stars arrived on Wearside, but left empty-handed after substitute Ji Dong-won's injury-time strike condemned them to a 1-0 defeat for the second successive season.

The win was all the more remarkable as keeper Simon Mignolet, who was planning to watch the game from the stands with his parents, was drafted into the starting line-up after Keiren Westwood was taken ill, while midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback were pressed into service as emergency full-backs amid an injury crisis.

O'Neill said: "It was a terrific win. There was a lot of character shown that day.

"I know these are over-used words in the game, but that was very important for us because Manchester City at any given stage in that match or in any game, can rip you apart.

"We conjured it from somewhere. Ji's goal was greeted with an enormous roar, which I shan't forget, and for us to win on the opening day of the calendar year gave us a big boost."

That victory came in the midst of a run of results which hauled O'Neill's men out of relegation trouble, but 12 months on, it took a 1-0 at Southampton on Saturday to calm frayed nerves once again.

Summer signing Steven Fletcher was the match-winner with his eighth goal of the season as Sunderland maintained their record of taking points from every game in which the £12million summer signing has struck.

O'Neill said: "He has scored important goals. I am not so sure he has scored an unimportant goal for us - every goal we get is important. I have to say it's not that often that we are winning by three or four goals.

"His contribution has been fantastic so far."

Adam Johnson is a doubt for the visit of his former club with a dead leg, while fellow midfielder Sebastian Larsson is battling against a knee problem.

But whoever is named in the starting line-up, O'Neill knows they will have to be at their very best if they are to contain a City side capable of producing genuine brilliance.

He said: "Against Newcastle, there was maybe a half-hour period where they were just absolutely exceptional, and sometimes you just have to admit that these players are really talented.

"You can try to plan as much as you possibly can - even teams who are better than us, much better than us, even teams at the top end of the table try to plan, but it's very difficult to beat that kind of individuality."

PA

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