O'Neill: We're 100 Per Cent Behind Paul
Thursday, 3rd Dec 2020 10:22
General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill has spoken at length about manager Paul Lambert’s position, as well as a number of other current Town issues, with many fans calling for a change of boss.
As last season, the Blues began this campaign as the team to beat in League One but have slipped down the table to fifth, without a win or goal in three games and having lost seven of the last 11 in all competitions.
In a lengthy interview with BBC Radio Suffolk, which can be found here (from 8mins 13secs), prior to Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Oxford and Lambert’s controversial comments about media negativity, O’Neill was asked whether Lambert was under any pressure inside the club.
“In this game we’re all under pressure,” he said. “It’s the nature of football and we all feel it. At the same time we’re only two wins from being right up in the top part of the league again. We’re in the top six at the moment but we know we need to deliver results.
“That’s something staff and players don’t take lightly. There is a pressure and but that’s because of the stature of the football club.
Is his job safe? “We are 100 per cent behind Paul and the first-team staff and the players. It’s not a time to put a blame culture on why we aren’t picking up the points.
“We need to stick together, work incredibly hard and get behind the team to try and get back to where we were at the start of the season when we were winning games and playing a nice style.”
Will be definitely be at Town at the end of the season? Is there a time limit on Lambert, who has a five-year contract, to turn it around?
“This is football and we’re 100 per cent behind Paul to try and deliver the outcomes we want – to get ourselves promoted,” O’Neill continued.
“That’s what people want and what people are expecting. How quickly we can do that, that’s the challenge.
“We’re all up for that challenge and will work very hard to right the wrongs as quickly as possible so we don’t slip down the table and don’t lose games continuously.
“It’s incredibly difficult when, while I am very passionate about the academy, you sometimes have to rely on the young players because there are some big boots there for them to fill.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them as well and it’s about getting behind them, the team and the staff to hopefully deliver some success.”
Quizzed in whether Lambert, who has been in charge since October 2018, is the man to take the Blues back to the Championship, he added: “We very much hope so. We can’t sit here and say what’s going to happen in the future or in the next six months because we’re working day-by-day and game-by-game to try and put things in place to win the next game of football.
“Paul has a lot of experience and has been in management a long time, as well as being in this situation a number of times. To give him the time and resource to be able to do that we have to look at everything.”
It’s been widely suggested that the cost of sacking a manager who signed a five-year deal on New Year’s Day would be prohibitive.
“I think the idea, when we talked about the length of contract, was to try and give people an idea about the length of time to embed a philosophy and work on embedding some improvements,” O’Neill said.
“Some of those can happen immediately and others can take a little bit longer. We all want that to happen as quickly as possible so we’re hoping we can put that all in place for us to be up there and try to get out of this league this season. We’re working incredibly hard to try and do that.
Regarding fans’ frustrations, he said: “I get their frustration and I do understand where they’re coming from. So does the manager and so do the players.
“They don’t want to try and lose games of football and they go out there to win. They are trying to do that with a style of play which entertains. We’re only early on in the signing and we’re trying to make changes from last season, which takes time.
“Supporters’ points have been listened to. I get they are unhappy but we have to go out there and try to deliver a better performance as a team and as a club.”
On suggestions that there are wider issues at the club with Evans’s 13 years at the club having been less than successful overall, O’Neill said: “I think we can’t hide away from that because we are in the lowest position we’ve ever been in some aspects. We do have to look at things.
“I can’t comment on what’s happened in the past but we can reflect on it and learn from it to try and improve.
“The expectation is for us to be back in the Championship at a minimum because we also have won major trophies and have been in the Premier League. That’s different to how it is now. We have to take all those points on board.
Regarding owner Evans’s thoughts on the current position, he said: “Marcus is as frustrated as I am and as everyone is. We talk about winning together and losing together and he goes home disappointed when we lose. He’s the same as me, the manager and the players.
“Marcus is definitely aware of how the fans are feeling. He understands their frustrations. He can hear and see things around him and, even though fans aren’t at the stadium there are ways they have voiced their opinions. He’s aware of that and is fully supportive in getting the football club back to better times.”
Asked about the importance to Evans of fans’ opinions, he added: “Football clubs aren’t football clubs without fans and of course they have a real part to play in that process.
“He gets it and understands it and we want them to enjoy their experience. We want to understand their frustrations and concerns and reassure them we’re doing everything we can to improve.”
He says Evans has given no indication that he is looking to sell up and move on: “No, we’ve not had conversations about that at all.”
Moving on to the current injury situation, O’Neill said: “Having looked into this a lot there are so many things you can blame if you like and look at in more detail.
“You can’t get away from the fact it’s a contact sport where people collide. We’ve looked into footwear, traction control into grass, training methods, the way we analyse information and specific programmes all players have. We’ve gone through all of that in detail.
“Some of the situational stuff is unfortunate. If you look at the wider scale of injuries this season they are through the roof at every club. Obviously that’s to do with loading and games during a really condensed season after a lot of time off.
“It’s not ideal and really simple things like recovery strategies aren’t the same as they were last season. The same with the way people eat, sleep and the way they come in for training. That’s all different.
“We can’t put out our more experienced, stronger players like we were at the start of the season when we had that settled squad. We have to get on with it. We’ve have situations with Covid as well.
“We’re looking at everything from the medical department to the conditioning department, the games programme. Everything."
Quizzed on TWTD Phil Ham being banned from press conferences by manager Lambert, O’Neill said: “We have a relationship with the forum [sic] and the person who runs the forum so we are disappointed it’s got to this stage because we’ve always had a really good relationship.
“We understand it’s a really important way of communicating with the fans of the football club.
“There has been one or two things that have happened on there that the manager hasn’t been too happy with, which I appreciate from his point of view.
“I think it’s worth noting we are the only club in the EFL and the Premier League that does allow a fanzine [sic] to attend games and press conferences as a member of the media.
“The person we are referring to is a definite fan of the club and works incredibly hard so we want to have that relationship. It’s got to work both ways and there are some issues there we need to iron out. We’re sure the situation will evolve over the next few weeks.”
TWTD understands that a number of other clubs, including those in the Premier League, among them Arsenal, similarly give access to those working for independent websites and blogs.
In addition to his TWTD role, Ham, who holds a press card, is a freelancer and also currently writes for the Colchester Evening Gazette.
Asked whether there is a need to build bridges given the currently strained relations between club and supporters, he added: “It is hurtful because in the role I have recently taken over a lot of what I’ve spoken about is around building the relationship with the community and having the [Community] Trust back and established again.
“Paul has been out there and has spoken to a number of people locally. Our players do a lot locally. But we can always do more.
“It hurts but in this role you have to take criticism. All points will be noted and we’ll try and improve things going forward.”
Regarding the importance of going up this season with the League One salary cap set to have a more significant impact next season, he said: “There are a number of teams all trying to do the same thing and have been in this league for a long time.
“We’re obviously one of the bigger clubs and the expectation is that it’s going to get harder with the salary cap. We’ve already found that this year it’s made recruitment a little different and it’s going to have an impact on how we can perform.
“We want to be in the Championship because that can impact who we can bring into the club.”
Photo: Matchday Images
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