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On Days Like These: The Incredible Autobiography of a Football Legend

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This is a tidy little book, it charts the progress of a man who I am sure will be fondly remembered as a football genius by my generation. Now, for the first time, Martin O’Neill reflects on one of the most varied and interesting football careers in the British Isles. As a manager, his legendary time in charge of Celtic saw them win seven trophies including three Scottish Premier League titles and the UEFA Cup, and he successfully led both Leicester City and Aston Villa to League Cups in England. With Roy Keane as his assistant manager, he oversaw Ireland reaching the Euros for only the third time in their history. Mr. O’Neil takes us on a journey that includes his childhood, his professional football career and then his professional management history. O’Neill remains youthful in body and mind. If his days in the dugout are indeed over, he quite rightly refuses to fully concede as much. “Could I manage at the top level? I don’t think those things leave you. The spirit, the determination, the passion and drive … My last breath on this earth is when those things will leave me.” The relationship between O’Neill and the Irish football media during a five-year international tenure remains a source of fascination. We shall return to that later. It would be unfair, as some have suggested, to depict O’Neill’s memoir as a score-settling exercise. Yes, there is occasionally acerbic comment – one would surely expect no less – but an extraordinary career which scaled playing heights under Brian Clough before touching managerial greatness at Celtic and Leicester is depicted with an entertaining tone. There is self-deprecation throughout.

Martin O’Neill speaks honestly about the decision to retire as a player, and making the transition to manager. He recalls finding early success with Wycombe Wanderers, and the move to the Premier League with Leicester City. He talks about his years with Celtic, where the team won seven trophies and reached the UEFA Cup Final in 2003, and at Aston Villa, where he achieved three consecutive top six Premier League finishes. He also speaks about managing the Republic of Ireland, and working alongside his mercurial assistant, Roy Keane. Written with O’Neill’s trademark honesty and humour, O’Neill is effusive in his praise of Keane, who has not managed since departing Ipswich in 2011. Bert Johnson, O’Neill’s youth coach at Forest, imparted advice which he believes applies to Keane. “You get a reputation in life for being an early riser and you can lie in bed all day,” he says. A really fine footballer. Terrific. What he knew about management, you could box in a thimble. We all might have some sort of ego but it can’t all be about you.” The only disappointment was that as his career progresses, particularly into management in the premiership, he doesn’t go into more depth when describing many of the characters in the dressing room, the make-up of the club and the characters involved. I just really felt like I wanted more from this period.As he takes you through this momentous journey, it’s not difficult to be impressed with everything that he has achieved and it seems that he has done it with minimal collateral damage. So often you see public figures climb to the top of the mountain stepping on people as they go but O’Neils generous and warm personality makes for a winning account of triumph over adversity when facing very difficult odds.

Nottingham Forest made history at home and abroad without those involved ever knowing how fabled their run was. “You were on this ride,” O’Neill says. “You are going to West Ham and expecting to win, whereas the previous year trying to beat Bristol Rovers was a struggle. I don’t think we realised it was special until it was over. The night we lost to the Bulgarians [CSKA Sofia in 1980] in the European Cup, you thought: ‘Wow, that’s it.’ As a manager, O'Neill's celebrated leadership of Celtic saw them win seven trophies, including three Scottish Premier League titles; and in England he successfully led Leicester City to two League Cups and Aston Villa to an unprecedented three consecutive top six Premier League finishes. He oversaw the Republic of Ireland reaching the Euros in 2016, when they made it to the second round for the first time in their history.

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Martin O’Neill is widely regarded as one of the most respected figures in football with a career spanning more than 50 years. A key part of Brian Clough’s legendary Nottingham Forest team in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, he represented Northern Ireland more than 60 times and led them to the 1982 World Cup.

O’Neill’s memories of a “mesmeric” Clough remain vivid, from the moment of their initial meeting in the winter of 1975. Clough instantly promoted O’Neill to the first team but was not of a mind to fawn. “Hey, you: Stop putting your mate in the shit. You look like a boy who would put your mate in the shit,” was the message in an early training session. Early on, I would have taken a bit of criticism but not nearly as much as Billy for making the choice. He never told me about it, he never said it bothered him. He was prepared to go for it when for an easier life he could have bypassed me.” Billy Bingham made O’Neill the first Catholic captain of Northern Ireland, which represented a seriously bold move in the early 1980s. “Billy said: ‘We get the results, everything will take care of itself,”” O’Neill recalls. “As it did. For a complicated man, he played a very simple game. He was as good at tactics as anybody but that’s not how he is considered. He is considered a motivator, a shouter or a charmer. He knew the game inside out. He told us things tactically during games that stood the test of time. He would say something to you on a Monday, contradict himself on a Friday and you would believe both.”

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