Martin O'Neill - The Real Life Mike Bassett

What do Martin O’Neill and film character Mike Bassett - England manager - have in common?

You are likely to say 'nothing', if you have in fact seen the cult flick. One is a modern day managerial maestro and the other is a symbol of the archetypal England manager which ultimately means he can’t win a game never mind a trophy.

However, what both men possess is a stubborn personality that often works to their benefit but occasionally puts a spanner in the works.

Bassett, who has a less than impressive start to his tenure as England boss, persists with his 4-4-2 formation until it nearly costs him his job.

The character, played by iconic actor Ricky Tomlinson, then changes his way of playing but to no avail and eventually he returns to his old and not so trusted system for the crucial game against Argentina.

The decision pays dividends and despite an unsuccessful start to their World Cup campaign, England are eventually knocked out at the semi-final stage.

It is pure genius as a comedy and it works largely because it does in fact showcase just how so many managers in the beautiful game act, albeit in an exaggerated manner.

But, taking into account that this article appears to be drifting more in the direction of a review than an informative piece, we must return to the subject of Northern Irishman O’Neill.

The genius that is MON, also appears to have a love for the traditional 4-4-2 formation.


The Villa boss sent his team out 4-5-1 on many an occasion throughout the first half of last season and his side were hugely successful.

However, after England striker Emile Heskey, who is akin to Rufus Smalls (a goal-shy striker in the film), joined the club, O’Neill opted to revert to 4-4-2 .

This worked entirely to the detriment of the team, yet he persisted with it for the remainder of the season.

Villa consequently went on a horror run which saw them fail to beat almost everyone with the exception of Hull and Newcastle.

The Tigers and the Magpies put in displays which would be similar to the likes of minnows Latvia and Estonia should they come up against England.

Therefore the achievement of the two 1-0 wins was slightly tarnished when taking into account the confidence lacking opposition.

O’Neill’s side returned from a summer break with new hope and expectation, yet the game against Wigan proved to be much of the same.

Again 4-4-2 was the preferred choice and again Villa lost a winnable game.

O’Neill then returned to a 4-5-1 for the trip to Anfield, a game which many claimed was Mission Impossible for the Claret and Blue.


The media and the bookies gave Villa as little hope as they did in the movie when England needed to beat Argentina to qualify from their World Cup group.

In fact, with Bassett needing to win, one journalist said he would eat his hat should the Three Lions roar against their old nemesis.

Villa, like England on that occasion, claimed an unlikely victory and O’Neill was again lauded as a genius but he the key was that, unlike Bassett, he had not returned to his erroneous ways.

The Claret and Blue then went on to win their next league game against Fulham and the return to a five in midfield system looked like a return to sanity.

However, two weeks later, with Villa level after 70 minutes at St Andrews against the Blues, O’Neill brought on John Carew and went with two up front. The change paid dividends and a 1-0 win was achieved.

Suddenly, a dual strike force looked the best option. Carew set up the winner for Gabby Agbonlahor and their boss persisted with the formation for the home clash with Portsmouth. Another victory was forchcoming as Villa ran out 2-0 winners.

Despite an unfortunate 2-1 defeat a Blackburn a week later, O’Neill continued with his much loved setup.

Again it proved profitable as Villa went at Man City in a heated Monday night encounter nine days after the loss at Ewood Park . They had clearly improved and begun to learn the 4-4-2 way of playing. In that respect, they are much like Bassett’s England.

But have they developed in such a way that the season will now prove a successful one with both formations being used to equally great effect?

Whether or not they are au fais with both structures is questionable but one thing is for sure – they will continue to play four-four-f*****g-two.