Martin O’Neill is an immensely loyal guy and it is no surprise tonight to see him standing up for his former captain. But where he has gone wrong is to imply that because you once shared a dressing room with somebody that you cannot criticise them later.
O’Neill was a manager far too long not to know that.
He was also a player in a big, big side which won two European Cups.
He played under a manager who was one of the first people in football to regularly get himself on the telly. O’Neill himself enjoys punditry and whilst he may respect certain rules and values he knows it’s not the nature of the business.
If you are a former player who goes into management, you have to accept that the job comes with scrutiny.
If some of your former team-mates have gone into punditry you cannot expect them to remain silent if you are making mistakes. It is not their job to protect, or to burnish, your reputation.
The responsibility for that is yours and yours alone.
A pundit who cannot be critical of his mates when that is required is fundamentally dishonest and is failing at the job. Nobody in the game can expect that sort of blind loyalty from those in the media, even if they did once share a dressing room.
When you are screwing up, and in particular when you fail to recognise that you are screwing up, it is the responsibility of the media to report it just so. We know that some of them go over the top when it’s a Celtic manager in the gunsights, but you cannot accuse Sutton or Hartson or Petrov or those guys of that … they care about the club too much.
The idea that these people “stabbed (anyone) in the front” is patently nonsensical.
A good friend is one who tells you when you’ve made a mess of it, not one who pretends you are a genius getting everything right even as it’s manifestly coming apart around you.
Those people would not be doing their jobs right if they did otherwise.
Those managers who aren’t doing their own jobs right certainly have no right to pontificate against people who are. The media is not always wrong. Not all criticism is unfair. Criticism itself is not heresy.
There are a lot of people at the top of the game who obviously need a thicker skin; they seem to think that they should be immune to criticism and can’t handle it when they get it, and that they so quickly turn on their friends when their friends are simply telling it true is pathetic.
I am not surprised that O’Neill is standing up for his own pal.
I am surprised that he would choose to target those who are simply doing what their own jobs require.
The media are not supposed to be cheerleaders for their pals. There is integrity in being willing to criticise their friends and their job performance. Anything less and they’re in the wrong business.