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Sunderland boss happy for players to take time out
SUNDERLAND manager Martin O'Neill thinks there is a time and place for professional footballers to enjoy breaks from diets and fitness programmes - even when a team is deep in relegation trouble.
When the Black Cats head to Loftus Road this afternoon it will bring together two of the five Premier League teams that took advantage of a free weekend by heading to Dubai last month.
While Sunderland players were commended for their behaviour during the trip, their counterparts at Queens Park Rangers have been accused of treating the visit like a stag-do in stories which disgusted manager Harry Redknapp.
O'Neill did allow his players plenty of spare time during their five-day trip to the Middle East once morning training sessions had been attended and worked through.
And he thinks there has always been room for team get-togethers away from the training ground and pitches, if the time was right.
O'Neill, a former Nottingham Forest player who won the European Cup in 1980, said: "In our day Brian Clough, when we were winning, would remind us at times that he was getting calls from the public to say we'd been seen out drinking. He wanted to know who didn't go out so he could fine them!"
Before the European Cup final success over Hamburg 33 years ago, Clough took his Forest players on a week's holiday in preparation. O'Neill said: "I know we won and that's fine, but that's the one I disagreed with.
"That wasn't a great idea, not great news considering you were playing a European Cup final ten days later. The Hamburg team were in a training camp, my view is that if Hamburg had equalised at any point, it would have ended up 21-1. But they didn't. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration.
"There is a balance, and to be fair to the man I'm talking about he generally got the balance pretty right. If you win, it's a master-stroke, it's the same as if you win with tactical substitutions and things like that."
O'Neill, 61, is certainly not going to ban his players from enjoying a night out - and thinks such occasions can be good for team spirit.
He said: "As long as you're not over-playing it, there's an element of that. Regardless of all the changes made in the modern game, I still believe that it exists. The modern day player would have a better idea of how to look after himself than 20-odd years ago.
"I don't know where the (QPR) story came from, but the chances are it was from a player who was not in the team. I might be totally wrong on that."
QPR responded to the stag-do allegations by turning over Southampton at St Mary's a week ago; a victory which has boosted their survival chances. Sunderland head to Loftus Road today just six points above Rangers.
While Sunderland brought in Kader Mangane, Alfred N'Diaye and Danny Graham at a cost of £8.8m during the January transfer window, QPR spent more than £20m on Loic Remy, Christopher Samba, Jermaine Jemas and Yun Suk-Young.
O'Neill said: "I think if they stay up their spending will be justified. The owner has decided to go with it, the consequences are something that will be borne out later on. They've gone for it and put themselves in a position where they can get out of trouble."
Sunderland - who will have Danny Rose (hamstring) available and Matt Kilgallon has shrugged off illness - are acutely aware that defeat at Loftus Road could significantly increase relegation concerns.
O'Neill, whose side are only three points shy of tenth placed Fulham, said: "We're a couple of points off the top ten but you're still looking over your shoulder.
"That's the nature of it, that's been our position this season. We're three points off the top 10, yet you still have to be anxious, because we still need the points on the board."