Chris Sutton has defended his former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill following criticism levelled at him for his struggles towards the end of his Irish reign as well as his brief spell in charge of Nottingham Forest.
O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane were relieved of their duties at the helm of the Irish national team at the end of 2018 following an abysmal year which saw them win just one game and suffer relegation from their UEFA Nations League group.
The 67-year old was heavily criticised for his often pragmatic tactics with Irish fans feeling his departure was warranted with change needed ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying.
A man who is well used to life under O’Neill is former Celtic striker Chris Sutton who was a part of the highly successful Hoops squad of the early 2000s alongside the Derry native.
Sutton has outlined before that he loved his time with O’Neill at the Scottish giants and speaking as he was unveiled as one of Premier Sports’ new broadcast team, the former striker explained that he feels Irish expectations during their tenure under O’Neill may have been too high.
“You have your views on the Irish job, I think the Irish job is particularly tricky, if I’m being honest,” said Sutton.
“He was in charge for a number of years with Ireland and I think there was an expectation for the Irish team to do better, was it entirely realistic?
“I don’t know with the level of players, I don’t think Ireland can play an open, expansive game of football and I’m not necessarily sure they will under Mick McCarthy.
“Mick’s a really good manager, I think he massively overachieved at Ipswich town and got a raw deal there. With Martin leaving I think Mick is a natural successor to the job.”
Towards the end of his tenure O’Neill had come under fire for his often negative tactics and perceived “old school” approach to the game, with Matt Doherty even claiming that there wasn’t always a game plan going into a match.
This idea that the game has passed O’Neill by was dismissed by Sutton with the former Chelsea and Blackburn man outlining that during his time working under his manager at Celtic, the striker always knew his role.
“In terms of Ireland five and a half years is a long time and things evolved and there was a negativity towards him. Maybe it was time for a change?
“But I’m not having this stuff that Martin is a dinosaur this that and the other. I can’t imagine Martin changing, maybe he has, but in terms of not knowing what my instruction is when I went out on the pitch in a Celtic jersey (never happened)
“I was clear and if it worked for Martin back then, I can’t imagine him slacking off in any way.”
Following his departure from the Irish setup, O’Neill returned to management at Nottingham Forest, midway through the Championship season.
In 19 games under the Derryman, Forest won eight matches, lost eight and recorded three draws, which wasn’t enough to see them secure a playoff spot as a mixture of results and player unrest lead to an early pre-season exit for O’Neill.
Sutton outlined that he feels O’Neill was incredibly hard done by during his time at the City Ground and that the players should have taken more responsibility for the poor displays towards the end of the campaign.
“What happened with Martin at Forest, he got maybe 19 games, four or five months and then reading the stuff about the players taking it upon themselves to go upstairs and show their discontent over Martin.
“This is a group of players who by all accounts were very very average last season. The game may have changed but it’s changed for the worst if that’s the case.
“If these players had actually achieved something and finished in a playoff situation or got themselves promoted, I’m not saying it’s right but they would have had themselves a stronger case.
“It’s blaming the manager when things aren’t going right and not taking personal responsibility, that’s the way I see it.”
Premier Sports today unveiled a new, fresh and exciting broadcast team for its coverage of the 2019/2020 Premier League Season featuring analysts Richard Dunne and Kenny Cunningham, host Eoin McDevitt and commentators Des Curran, Gary Breen and Clive Tyldesley.