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O'Neill needs time to revive Northern Ireland

Joel Taggart | 15:55 UK time, Wednesday, 4 January 2012

So Michael O'Neill's vision for the future was the reason he got the nod over Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie for the Northern Ireland job.

Neither Irish FA president Jim Shaw nor chief executive Patrick Nelson shared at the media conference what that vision actually was, but I think in fairness to both men they know what is fantasy and what is achievable.

Michael is an intelligent man who is thorough in his preparations.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill will need to be given time as manager of Northern Ireland

When you speak to people who have encountered him as a player, coach, manager or just a person, they usually have only positive things to say.

His playing career should earn him respect and his recent success with Shamrock Rovers saw his managerial star rise at just the right time.

But, like Shaw and Nelson, Michael is a realist. He is well aware of the massive challenge that is ahead.

Managers can do everything in their power to help prepare a team and make sure circumstances are right, but they can't win you football matches. Players do that, and that will be Michael's biggest problem.

Players, good ones, are in short supply when it comes to the international team.

Then you have some players who are good, but leave themselves vulnerable to questions regarding their commitment in recent times.

Few things have worried me more than an interview I recorded with Maik Taylor in Italy following Nigel Worthington's resignation.

He spoke of a resentment within the squad, of players who were turning up for games regularly unhappy with others who didn't seem to care.

His disappointment didn't mask the anger. Here was a senior pro and former captain, who simply could not fathom why another generation seemingly regard playing international football as, at best, an inconvenience. Changing attitudes will be just as challenging as scoring goals.

With this in mind, I hope the Windsor Park employers are not expecting to qualify for the World Cup qualifiers in 2014, let's forget that right now.

Michael should be judged on progress over the next two years, not the group table.

Progress in terms of results yes, but progress in terms of how we can best develop our elite young players, how we then keep them from the clutches of the FAI and how we persuade others that the grass is not always greener.

Transition is not easy, just ask Andre Villas Boas.

During the last campaign Aaron Hughes, Stephen Craigan and George McCartney all retired. The hanging up of Maik Taylor's gloves cannot be far away. Grant McCann, Warren Feeney, David Healy and Gareth McAuley, four of the most commited to the cause, are all the wrong side of 30.

I would like to think Michael has built up plenty of credit as a player to ensure the fans give him time to oversee the changes required. Time is something he will need if we are all to catch a glimpse of that vision.


  • Comment number 1.

    No Northern Ireland wont qualify for the 2014 World Cup or probably any other World Cup in the future as only 13 teams from Europe can now qualify as more spots are given to African and Asian teams. It will be the same for the rest of the Home nations and only England has a realistic chance to qualify for future World Cups.

    But the 2016 Euro championship will be expanded to 24 teams, and Northern Ireland has a very real chance to qualify for that. If keep 9 qualifying groups then 3rd place in a group should reach play-off with top 2 teams qualifying outright.

    2016 qualifying is Michael O'Neill's goal, and the ROI defectors not getting a game there will be miss out on playing on the International stage with NI in 2016.

  • Comment number 2.

    He needs to change the hearts and minds of the public and fans as much as that of the players. Everyone needs to be more inclusive. He is as good a man as any to do it. Good luck to him and all. The job does a feel of salesman about it.

    As for the players, the chance of playing against Russia, Portugal etc should be inspiring enough with a genuine chance of a major international tournament.

  • Comment number 3.

    I believe the last 18 years have been momentous on this island. The terrorists and politicians have been cast aside and now have to live (most of the time) within the boundaries that we, as a population, set them. Michael O'Neill is a good man but niave. It is the right of everyone to assert their national identity, whether British or Irish. Therefore, he must know that the majority of those percieved to be nationalist will identify themselves as Irish and therfore elect to play for 'their' country i.e. Ireland. However, in the past many 'Irish' have elected to play for the north. How some of these people have been treated will only not help his cause. Combine that with a ground in a 'Loyalist' heartland, adds to the difficulties that many 'nationalists' have with the IFA and supporting the North. They missed a trick in not forcing a move to more neutral terrority where soccer could once again become a family day out and inclusive. Recent trouble from mindless thugs at Cliftonville and Glenavon don't help matters. Fair play to those who have tried to improve soccer in the north and make it more inclusive, but I love my family and my country too much to be part of an experiment doomed to failure by those who won't change i.e. IFA


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