Next Leicester City manager: Why O’Neill return would be a mistake
There’s less than a month to go before the start of Leicester City’s second successive Premier League campaign, and the East Midlands outfit appear no nearer to naming a successor to Nigel Pearson.
A succession of experienced coaches, and that is a euphemism for ageing in this context, have been linked to the role. Sam Allardyce was the early favourite, followed by Guus Hiddink, Bob Bradley and now Martin O’Neill.
Fancied for a return to the Foxes for a second spell, the current Republic of Ireland manager will have supporters resting easier after relative novice boss Predrag Radosavljevic, who was in charge of a third-tier side in the USA, was mentioned in dispatches.
That first O’Neill era lasting four-and-a-half years from December 1995 until Celtic came calling over the summer of 2000 was Leicester’s most successful in modern times. He got them up via the play-offs, established in the Premier League and added two League Cups from three final appearances in that competition.
Although it is understood the FAI would not stand in O’Neill’s way should he seek a return to club management, this is a far cry from the Second Coming of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea. Former Nottingham Forest favourite O’Neill has established a legacy in the East Midlands both as player and manager. He would risk the latter if he returned to Leicester.
Now 63, how much longevity is there in the Foxes’ wealthy Asian owners appointing O’Neill? Although always an energetic presence on the touchline, kicking every ball with his players, it is hard to see a second stint lasting as long as his first.
O’Neill would be almost 68 if he could last another four-and-a-half-years. Leaving his current post without qualification for Euro 2016 settled would also hint he doesn’t feel Ireland can finish in the top three in what admittedly is a tricky group, and thus miss out on the play-offs.
There’s something else, though, that advises caution about this purported appointment and suggests it would be a mistake. O’Neill has on the whole done excellent jobs in management, but his last club post at Sunderland was unspectacular and statistically his worst.
A 16-month spell at the Stadium of Light (early December 2011 to late March 2013) resulted in a win ratio of less than one in three; way down on his wonderful work at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa previously.
Five victories in 16 international outings in charge of Ireland, which include just two competitive wins (one of which came over minnows Gibraltar) result in the poorest percentage of any permanent manager since Eoin Hand in the first half of the 1980s. Has O’Neill lost his magic touch, then?
Yet there would be a level of bravery to O’Neill coming back to Leicester you can’t help but admire. It’s still something that makes little sense long-term. Neil Lennon, an O’Neill acolyte from the Foxes and Celtic, would have much the same galvanising effect with fans.
He may make for a visionary appointment that could stabilise and establish Leicester as his mentor did before him. Unlike those above names in their late 50s and 60s, plus left-field candidate Preki, Lennon has a history with the club, is young, hungry and ambitious and should cultivate instant respect among the players.
At 4/1 to move from Bolton Wanderers to the King Power Stadium, Lennon would surely jump at the chance to coach in the Premier League. Leicester remain at a cross-roads here, and have to get the appointment right to avoid another season of relegation battling, which they are 4/1 to lose this coming campaign.