Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Liverpool boss Rodgers baffled by O'Neill sacking

Martin O'Neill parted company with Sunderland after 16 months in charge
Martin O'Neill parted company with Sunderland after 16 months in charge

Brendan Rodgers is a big fan of Martin O'Neill – and not just because they both hail from Northern Ireland.

Rodgers believes his friend and fellow countryman is one of the best managers the Premier League has seen – which is why he's totally baffled as to why Sunderland would part company with O'Neill like they did in such dramatic circumstances on Saturday.

Paolo Di Canio was appointed as successor to O'Neill at the Stadium of Light – a move that has divided the Black Cats fans.

O'Neill was having a poor season but Di Canio is unproven at this level and the removal of the Co Derryman at this stage of the season is certainly a major gamble.

"I was very surprised," said Liverpool manager Rodgers.

"Whenever someone of the status of Martin O'Neill loses his job, then we all have to be on the back foot.

"This is a guy who has been in the game for many years, went into Sunderland and picked them up off their knees.

"OK, they are going through a difficult time, but he is still a top-class manager. I hear the same things about Stoke and Tony Pulis.

"I think some clubs need to be careful. They need to understand where they are at. They won't always be on the front foot. There are some times when the club just has to be stable and guys like Martin O'Neill losing his job, it's a sad day."

O'Neill – who was interviewed for the England manager's job in 2007 but missed out to Steve McClaren – has already been linked with succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni as the Republic of Ireland manager.

Sunderland have failed to win any of their last eight Premier League games, picking up just three points in the process during a slide down the table and owner Ellis Short acted on Saturday night in an attempt to stop the club from being relegated following the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Short called former Northern Ireland captain O'Neill to tell him of his dismissal shortly before a club statement was released at 9.25pm on Saturday night that said the "club had parted company" with the 61-year-old.

The Sunderland hierarchy believe a change had to be made to give the club a chance of retaining their Premier League status.

Sunderland have not won a match since a 3-2 success at Wigan Athletic on January 19 and Short believes the spark the controversial Di Canio can give his club may be enough to keep them up.

Di Canio's first game in charge will be against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next Sunday and in a baptism of fire he will then face Newcastle at St James' Park in the Tyne-Wear derby, before Everton at the Stadium of Light and Aston Villa away.

The Italian left his position as manager at Swindon following a row over the sale of star winger Matt Ritchie to Bournemouth.

He had led the club to the League Two title and the Football League trophy final at Wembley, where they were beaten by Chesterfield.

Following his departure from Swindon, he spoke of his desire to manage at Premier League or Championship level.

"I believe I am at a stage now where I am a Premier League or Championship manager," he said.

The Italian is reported to have been offered a two-year contract.

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