Martin O’Neill has hit out at Alan Shearer over the pundit’s criticism of Cyrus Christie’s performance against Arsenal last weekend.
The Ireland right-back was slated by Shearer as he highlighted Fulham’s weakness down the right side of their defence in the 5-1 demolition at the hands of Unai Emery’s new-look Arsenal side.
Arsenal were able to get in behind the Fulham defence on several occasions, and Shearer suggested that Christie did not do his job defensively and could not cope with the fluidity of Arsenal’s attack.
However, Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has come to the player’s defence while attacking Shearer and his failed management career in the process.
The Ireland manager felt that the former England striker was guilty of a lack of understanding in his analysis – stating that Christie was merely following instructions from Slavisa Jokanovic as a right-sided player in a 3-4-3 formation. He spoke with the player yesterday to confirm that suspicion.
“I’ve asked Cyrus and this was the first thing I thought of when Alan Shearer was having a go,” said O’Neill, “He (Shearer) should have prefaced things by saying, ‘I don’t know what the manager has said’, because at the end of the day, the manager has asked him to stay up the pitch and not worry about getting back.
“So if you’re asking a wing-back to go up the pitch, be really high up the pitch, hoping that you receive the ball up there – you’re depending on people to get you the ball – but you’re up there and then ask them to get 50 yards back when it’s broken down? Usain Bolt couldn’t get back there in time, he wouldn’t be able to get back. The communication has to be there with the right centre-back.
“I think the criticism was tough considering that you haven’t put in the possibility that the manager has told you to stay up the pitch. I don’t think the severe criticism was as warranted. I don’t think everything was down to him and the first thing I thought about when Shearer was saying those things is, ‘You should be asking the question’.
“Maybe that’s why he only managed eight games [as Newcastle manager], that might be something to do with it,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill suggested that Fulham struggled because they are not used to playing with wing-backs. It is a system that has brought O’Neill great success in his career, as he considers employing the system for Saturday’s game with Denmark.
The 66-year-old agreed that he does have the options with Enda Stevens, a regular at left wing-back for Championship leaders Sheffield United, and Matt Doherty providing stern competition for Christie on the other flank.
“I played it at Leicester and Celtic and the wing-backs have been really attacking players,” said O’Neill. “It took a bit of getting used to. For us now, if we are thinking about it because maybe our strengths might be down the wings now, then it’s something you have to try to practise a few times. Hopefully we’ll do that between now and Saturday.”
O’Neill acknowledged that Denmark may have to adjust their plan with Christian Eriksen set to miss out, and also admitted that last November’s painful World Cup play-off defeat might just come up in discussions across the week.
“In terms of us trying to rectify that, I’m sure that will be uppermost in the mind of the players,” said O’Neill. “I don’t see that as a bad thing.”