Stoke City seems very much like a club that is stuck in a rut. The received opinion in football is that rapid churn of managers brings instability to clubs and that sooner or later, catastrophe will befall them.
Over at the Britannia Stadium, they’ve practised the opposite of that for over a decade now, with just two managers, Tony Pulis and the just-departed Mark Hughes overseeing a lengthy period of stability since 2006. In fact, if you factor out the season when Pulis fell out with the Potters’ board and buggered off to Plymouth Argyle for a while, it’s been two managers in almost 16 years.
But then there’s that rut. My theory is that Stoke City and Mark Hughes bored each other senseless in the end, like a floundering marriage that has come to an end once the kids have left home and both parties have realised they’ve got nothing left to say to each other.
So, who should be the next Stoke manager with the club teetering on the brink of relegation and facing the possibility that all their mundane work of the past decade in the Premier League might have been for nothing?
One name in the frame is Martin O’Neill, who is inevitably being seen by some interested observers as a washed-up has-been, playing out what remains of his career in the safe space that is the Republic of Ireland job.
There’s still bags of goodwill there towards O’Neill after he led Ireland to Euro 2016 and missed out on a World Cup spot after losing the play-off to Denmark.
Admittedly it was a battering but on paper, Christian Eriksen is always going to come out on top when compared to, say Aiden McGeady.
As a Sunderland fan, who watched O’Neill during an ultimately fruitless 18 months at the Stadium of Light, my feeling is that they couldn’t ask for a better man to guide them to safety.
Yes, it might be boring at times, but boring is what Stoke City does best and as a Sunderland fan, I’d also say be careful what you wish for if you think relegation to the Championship might be a walk in the park.
O’Neill has pretty much succeeded everywhere he’s been. Even on Wearside, there was no real clamour for his dismissal as a shocking run of results saw us hovering above the drop zone with seven matches to go. I still think he would have kept us up in the end, and we would have swerved the ridiculous, short-lived tenure of Paolo Di Canio which came straight afterwards.
At Leicester, O’Neill took them to Wembley where he won two EFL Cup finals, leading to European competition. His spell at Aston Villa ended on a sour note, when he walked out, claiming that he wasn’t being sufficiently backed by owner Randy Lerner.
History has proved that he called that one utterly correctly, and what would Villa fans give now for the three sixth place Premier League finishes that the Irishman led them too.
Up in Scotland, O’Neill was a hero among Celtic fans too, winning three SPL titles but once again going a step further and overachieving with a UEFA Cup final, with an estimated 80,000 fans travelling to Seville just to say they were there.
Would Brendan Rodgers have been able to match now that if he was competing with a genuinely strong Rangers as his rivals? Unlikely.
The blip at Sunderland aside, overachievement has been Martin O’Neill’s chief strength. He knows how to get the best out of players of limited ability, and that’s exactly what Stoke are lumbered with thanks to Mark Hughes’ recent fumblings in the transfer market.
It might be boring, but an O’Neill Stoke wouldn’t find themselves tumbling out of the Premier League come the end of the season.