One day we can be like Barça, claims O'Neill

 

It is a proud record, and one he is determined to protect – from the gutsy 1-1 draw fought out by Wycombe at Merthyr Tydfil 21 years ago, to a share of the spoils at the Emirates Stadium when Aston Villa went 11 games unbeaten at the start of the season in 2006 – in a long and distinguished career in management, Martin O’Neill remains unbeaten in his first game in charge at all of his senior clubs.

If history is to be believed, it would appear the best hope for Blackburn Rovers, who visit the Stadium of Light tomorrow for an encounter that could well leave the losers in the bottom three, is to return across the Pennines with a point.

O'Neill, 59, is too long in the footballing tooth to draw too much comfort from past events on his return to the Premier League, 16 months after leaving Aston Villa. With the side he inherited from Steve Bruce just a point and a place above the bottom three, at least it is not the toughest of acts to follow. The Irishman said: "Looking from the outside at the start of the season, I thought that the players Sunderland had brought in would add that bit of stability. So yes, I'd say I'm surprised at some of the subsequent results."

Not that he is planning root-and-branch changes to face a Blackburn side without a win against the Wearside club in their last six attempts. He is yet to formulate his starting XI, waiting for several key performers to prove their fitness, and neither has he at this stage chosen a stand-in skipper for the suspended Lee Cattermole.

"What have I actually been doing, then?" The rhetorical question is posed with an endearing mix of humour and self-deprecation. "I've played Sunday over in my mind about 15 times, and so far we've won every game," O'Neill said. "I've thought about lots of different scenarios, but every time we end up winning."

Any new manager might be best advised not to map out a future that involves attempts to replicate the kind of stellar football played by the current European Champions, Barcelona. But then again, O'Neill can never be accused of following conventional wisdom. "I touched on it the other day," he said. "I always come back to the way Barcelona play, and I think teams look to that. It's a long way in the future, but you'd love to keep that in the back of your mind, that you could eventually have a team that could come out and play like that."

He at least retains the self-awareness to add: "Over the course of time, people will probably throw that back at me."

Ever the pragmatist, he added: "Over the last couple of years, Arsenal have been very easy on the eye, and it'd be lovely to play a brand of football that would excite the crowd. We have to balance that with a need to win football matches. I suppose at the moment pragmatism has to be the order of the day. We have to win games."

So after his lengthy managerial hiatus, surely he harbours certain doubts. Has the game moved on and left him, even in such a relatively short space of time? He said: "I was thinking about how the game might have evolved during my time away, and the answer is that I probably don't know.

"I watched a lot of football on TV, but it's not the same. Last Sunday's game at Wolves was a real eye-opener for me. The previous week, I'd taken my daughter to watch Arsenal against Fulham. After three or four minutes, she said: 'Isn't it great to watch a football game where there's no pressure?' Little did she realise that a fortnight later, she'd be throwing herself back into it again. That might tell you the difference, I'm watching now like a manager again, as opposed to watching for pure enjoyment."

At a club where false dawns have become depressingly familiar, the rewards – and no doubt adulation – for the manager to finally harness the undoubted potential will be substantial. But they will have to be earned. "A couple of young lads came up to me looking for autographs as I was coming out of the [midweek] reserves game," O'Neill said. "Then an older man, probably about my age, shouted: 'You need to win some games, son'. Son? I think I was older than him. But I got what he was saying immediately."

O'Neill openers Martin's first games

* Martin O'Neill has never lost his first match after taking over a new club

Wycombe Wanderers

10 Feb 1990: Merthyr (a) Drew 1-1

Norwich City

13 Aug 1995: Luton (a) Won 3-1

Leicester City

23 Dec 1995: Grimsby (a) Drew 2-2

Celtic

30 July 2000: Dundee U (a) Won 2-1

Aston Villa

19 Aug 2006: Arsenal (a) Drew 1-1

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'