What does the future hold for Michael O'Neill?

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 13 November 2017, 09:16

IF FOOTBALL really is a results business it is bad news for Michael O’Neill.

Northern Ireland’s manager is today still battling to dampen down the anger from seeing his team’s World Cup dreams ended amid the controversy of a terrible refereeing decision.

But when the dust settles the cold numbers will state that Northern Ireland lost their playoff with Switzerland and will not be going to Russia for next summer’s finals.

And a scan of the recent scores will tell you that O’Neill has won only one of his last five matches.

In the Premier League that is enough to get any chairman twitchy and certainly bad enough to get some modern day fans calling for his head.

Hopefully out there in the managerial killing grounds of 21st century football there is someone willing to look further than defeat and disappointment and see what an excellent coach O’Neill is.

The most startling fact about his five and a half years in charge of his little football country is that everyone takes notice of Northern Ireland now.

The organisation within his team of limited resources is way above where it should be. The team-spirit could match that at any of the big, successful English clubs.

Northern Ireland’s world ranking slipped to a low of 129 immediately after his official takeover in January 2012, before the magic kicked in.

At it’s highest the squad picked from a total population of just 1.8 million rose to 20. It is now 23 - a remarkable achievement which few of his peers could match.

Managerless Scotland are sniffing around him but he is far too good to be pigeon-holed as an international coach.

When you listen to West Brom’s Jonny Evans gush about O’Neill’s motivational ploys there is a deep sense that this man needs to be challenged on a week-to-week basis in charge of a club.

Michael O'Neill Next Job Odds

O’Neill showed his players a video of Lionel Messi crying after winning a game with Argentina and told them ‘if it means this much to the best player in the world just think what it would mean to you’.

In that way O’Neill got the very best out of a limited group of players. They have punched far above their weight for three years now, fuelled by psychological power.

O’Neill faces an uncertain future now. He insists he has not given his own situation any thought - sensibly reminding people that he is under contract until 2020.

But with a release clause of just £750,000 if a Premier League club shoehorns out of the Irish FA’s employ that is a small gamble to take.

West Ham should have taken more notice of O’Neill before taking the relatively safe option of appointing David Moyes.

Everton should be looking deep into O’Neill’s time as Northern Ireland boss before deciding who becomes their next boss.

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So what if he hasn’t got any Premier League experience? He’s got as much as Pep Guardiola had when he got the Manchester City job.

O’Neill took little Northern Ireland to the Euros last year and to the brink of the World Cup in a play-off ultimately decided by a terrible refereeing cock up.

He has maintained the high from Euro 2016 better than Chris Coleman of Wales who is consistently linked with top jobs in England

There is also the fact that in the year from September 2016 to 2017 he won six of Northern Ireland’s nine games - a win ratio of 67 per cent. That would put him into European contention if he were in charge of a Premier League team.

He has also done it with no transfer budget, from a limited pool of players - only four in his starting line up against Switzerland last night.

But the main thing is that footballers want to play for Northern Ireland now. He has made it attractive to anyone with an Irish granny, just like the Republic did in the 1990s.

Imagine what such a walking advert could do given money and a bit of time at a well-run club. We live in hope.


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