|MARTIN O'NEILL - BIOGRAPHY
April 2003 saw the publication of a biography of former Wanderers' boss Martin O'Neill written and researched by long time and respected football journalist Alex Montgomery.
The 235 page book, written without asking for the help or approval of O'Neill, charts the rise of the Irishman from a young lad from Kilrea through to his highly successful football playing career with Northern Ireland and Nottingham Forest and then onto his remarkable rise as a football manager starting at Grantham and at the time this review was written, taking Celtic to their first European Final for more than 30 years.
Montgomery's intelligent dialogue is interspersed with a wealth of quotes from people who have surrounded O'Neill throughout his career. They give an insight in the man's qualities, idiosyncrasies and love for the game.
The author touches on the effects that sectarianism had on O'Neill during his playing career plus his strained relationship with Forest manager Brian Clough - perhaps one of the reasons why O'Neill is seemingly able to get the best from his own players now he has taken on a manager's role.
Wanderers fans will, of course, home in on his time with Wycombe which is still the longest spell he has spent at any of his six clubs to date. The well documented chance meeting with Alan Parry in the Director's toilets at Carrow Road is expanded on and Parry recalls in the book "I knew Martin would be respected in the dressing room, that he could turn on the charm to a degree in order to impress the directors, that he had the enthusiasm to get through to the supporters. I thought he would be good at his job, I just couldn't say how good."
It's claimed in the book that O'Neill's annual salary in his first season at Wycombe was set at just under £25,000 (with bonuses built into the contract). Wanderers were to go on to get immense value for their money from the infectious Irishman as he raised the profile of the club to heights never seen before. The book explains the way O'Neill set his own standards at the club via player discipline, match preparation and his seemingly endless hunt for better players, taking him on one occasion to literally beg at the front door of Glenn Roeder, then manager of Watford.
Keith Ryan gives an insight into the motivational skills of the Manager who brought him to Adams Park in the summer of 1991, saying "One quality he has above a lot of other people is that he knows the character of people. He knows how to get the best out of them" Ryan goes on to say "His motivation skills were brilliant; you'd want to tear the dressing room door off to get on to the pitch. He would make you feel like a great player even when you knew you weren't."
The book also reveals more of the reasoning behind O'Neill's departure from Wycombe in the summer of 1995. Wycombe had just come on a roller coaster ride into the Football League and promotion in successive seasons and left the Club with a healthy bank balance. But Wanderers' Press Officer Alan Hutchinson explains in the book "I think Martin knew that we would not have the money much longer because we were building this big stand on the far side of the ground which would increase the capacity to 10,000. I remember him saying to one of the directors, 'Why not make it just 8,000, which would be £1.2 million instead of £2.2 million, give me the difference and I'll get you into the First Division'. Had we gone that way we might have kept him"
The legacy that O'Neill left at Wycombe has been felt by subsequent Managers, none more so than Alan Smith. The former Palace boss who suceeded O'Neill in the summer of 1995 suggests in the book that there were people at the Club who welcomed the chance to flex their muscles without having to bow to O'Neill. Smith adds "I don't think it helped me that Martin still lived in the area and was very friendly with Alan Parry, who was his great ally. Parry was, of course, still on the board. And sometimes the press would ring Martin for his opinion on what was happening at Wycombe. Everything I said or did got back to him"
Following his departure from Wycombe, O'Neill ended up at Leicester City, via a brief spell at Norwich City. The book is a reminder of just how bleak his first few months at Filbert Street were. It appears from the book that those wounds were never properly healed and the fact that he took a pay cut to take on the challenge at Parkhead is perhaps significant.
Accepting that O'Neill had little input the book, this is an excellent read for those who want to hear the stories behind the headlines rather than relive the great games that O'Neill has managed over the years. It tries to show all the sides of O'Neill's character and although some of the passages are sure to grate with O'Neill himself and some of the figureheads mentioned in the book, it's well worth looking this one out, even if only to find out O'Neill's sleeping arrangements prior to the 1991 FA Trophy Final.
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