BBC BLOGS - Joel Taggart

Archives for January 2012

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.


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