Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 28 May 2016

Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill can be Premier League boss: Brendan Rodgers

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/03/2016

Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers believes that Michael O'Neill is perfectly equipped to become a Premier League manager in the future.

Rodgers watched with admiration last year as O'Neill inspired Northern Ireland to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals and insists his friend could deliver at the highest level in English football.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last month that O'Neill has agreed a new £2million four-year contract with the Irish FA, which includes a clause that any interested club would have to pay £750,000 in compensation to secure the Northern Ireland manager's services.

That figure wouldn't worry Premier League sides if they were keen enough to snap him up, though O'Neill won't be going anywhere until after the Euro 2016 finals and even then may opt to remain in the international arena, should club offers not appeal.

When asked if O'Neill had the capabilities to be a Premier League boss, Rodgers, who has worked in the top flight with Swansea and Liverpool, said: " There's no question about that. It is just going to be about opportunity.

"He has done an outstanding job where he is.

"I know Michael well and he is a good guy, he is very talented, very bright, he's a good coach and he works with players well and has shown over the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against the odds he can stimulate a group to perform."

Rodgers added: "If you could look at the likes of other international managers, Chris Coleman (Wales) has worked at Premier League level, Martin O'Neill (Republic of Ireland) has great experience at that level and Roy Hodgson (England) has been there as well, so there is no reason why Michael couldn't do it. I'm sure he will prepare the squad well for the Euros and then he can assess it from there."

When he was in charge of Swansea, Rodgers outlined in the Belfast Telegraph that one day he would fancy a crack at managing Northern Ireland.

As he was announced as an official Ambassador of Northern Ireland Hospice and Northern Ireland's Children's Hospice yesterday, he confirmed the idea still appealed, though not for some time to come.

"I have said before, that before my coaching career finishes I would love to do that but hopefully not for a while yet," stated Rodgers, who hopes to return to Premier League management in the summer following his sacking from Liverpool earlier this season.

"I still have energy for the day to day challenge of working with players but at some point in the future for every native the opportunity to manage your country is something that would be very difficult to turn down. Like everything in life it is all about timing so certainly it is something I would consider at some point in my life."

Rodgers said that he felt a great sense of pride when Northern Ireland qualified for this year's European Championship finals - the nation's first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup. He added that he also felt sympathy for West Brom's Chris Brunt who won't be playing in France due to a serious knee injury.

"My thoughts are with Chris Brunt. When I heard about him missing out I really felt for him because he did a fantastic job for Northern Ireland in the campaign and has been a fine servant to the country," said Rodgers, who intends on going to the finals.

"My over-riding feeling at the time of qualification was that I was very proud. It was great for the country.

"I was so happy for Michael. He has done a remarkable job considering the circumstances when he took over.

"He has had to build everything and he has created great spirit in the squad. I am delighted for Michael that he will now get that Championship experience which not many managers have had for Northern Ireland.

"I'm also delighted for the players, especially boys like Steven Davis and Gareth McAuley, who have trawled all round Europe for many years representing Northern Ireland, possibly wondering why at times. With the Northern Ireland team there are guys who are very proud to represent their country and I feel they can go to the finals and do very well."

Questions for Brendan on Liverpool

Question: What's your verdict on Liverpool since you left?

Brendan Rodgers: It's not really for me to comment on. They have a very good manager in Jurgen Klopp in place. It is going to take time to bed in his methods and how he wants to work. He has some very good players there. The expectancy of course is to win the league, we went very close in my time and obviously Jurgen will go in and feel that he can improve on that and that's why the owners made the change. They felt they wanted to improve and to improve on runners-up would be to win the league but it is going to take time. I'm sure the owners will give him that time.

Q: How do you see Liverpool v Manchester United in the Europa League going?

BR: I was always pleased to be involved in those games as the manager of Liverpool. There is that rivalry between the two cities, in every aspect - economically and obviously football wise. It will be tight but Liverpool are coming off the back of good results so they will go into Thursday's first leg with confidence. United will feel, having done the double over Liverpool, that they also have a good chance. It will be tight.

Q: You have a lot of respect for the families of those who died at the Hillsborough disaster. Will you be going to the last memorial service for the victims at Anfield this year?

BR: From the outside all of us would have looked at the situation and admired the courage the families showed throughout many, many years of injustice. When I became the manager of Liverpool I got an insight into what the suffering was like. I met the relatives and I also met the survivors and talked about the lives they have led since the tragedy. Thankfully I will be there at the last service at Anfield. It is a great privilege to me to be there to support the families and the club. Even though I'm not there any more I am still a big lover of the club and what it stands for.

Q: Your thoughts on Ronnie McFall, who was the longest serving boss in Europe, stepping down as manager of Portadown after 29 years?

BR: First of all, let me send a big congratulations to Ronnie. He was managing here when I was a young boy. Ronnie has given so much time, effort and devotion to Portadown for all those years and he deserves a huge amount of credit. I am sure he will be happy and sad at the same time. He will be happy that he is going to have a lot more free time and to see all the other young managers feel the pressure but he will also feel sad that he will now be missing that two, three, four times a week with people with whom he shares his love of the sport.

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