Former Northern Ireland captain Mal Donaghy believes the man who led the team into the famed 1982 World Cup finals should be handed the task of reviving the country’s footballing fortunes.
According to Donaghy, Martin O’Neill is the ‘stand-out candidate’ to succeed Nigel Worthington as manager of Northern Ireland when he bows out after tonight’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy — and many would agree.
Donaghy, however, has warned the Irish FA off approaching former boss Lawrie Sanchez after his public slating of Worthington in the aftermath of last month’s |4-1 defeat in Estonia.
Indeed, O’Neill would have been the preferred choice of the majority of fans on the four occasions the post has become vacant in the last 14 years, but he’s always been employed elsewhere.
Now that he isn’t in a job, having left Aston Villa 15 months ago, the Irish FA can offer the 64-times capped former skipper a route back into management.
And Donaghy — who works in the IFA’s disability football department — wants his employers to make O’Neill their first call.
“Martin O’Neill would be the stand-out candidate for me,” said Donaghy.
“He isn’t managing at the minute, but he’s back on the scene. He was doing a bit of punditry work on the television a few weeks ago.
“I don’t know if Martin wants back in at this stage or even if he would prefer a club job over Northern Ireland, but there is an opportunity and I think Martin should he asked the question.
“I definitely think it should be kept ‘in house’ that it should be a Northern Ireland man who gets the job.
“Jim Magilton, Michael O’Neill and Iain Dowie have come to the fore as well and they all have their own attributes.”
Sanchez, too, has his own attributes and can boast victories over England and Spain during his previous time as Northern Ireland boss, but Donaghy has branded him ‘disgraceful’ after he said that the team had got worse instead of better under Worthington and went on to tout himself for a return to the job he quit to take over at Fulham.
“I don’t know what Lawrie Sanchez was thinking, but what he did and what he said was a disgrace,” said Donaghy.
“He is supposedly a mentor with the League Managers Association. I don’t know how that sits with criticising another manager and putting yourself forward for his job while he’s still employed.
“It’s disgraceful and he shouldn’t be asked back.”
Donaghy expects to see his record as Northern Ireland’s most capped outfield player equalled by David Healy against Italy tonight when he wins his 91st cap.
Healy has said he wants to make it to 100 and Donaghy would love to see another man hit the ton too.
“I’m delighted for David Healy,” he said.
“Sometimes I wonder about the commitment and effort of players in international teams, not simply our own, but David is a true legend and I hope he does go on and make it to 100 caps.
“I thought Aaron Hughes might have passed my record. He’s not quite 32 yet, I don’t know if he’s 100% about retiring, but I think whoever gets the manager’s job now should at least make a call because he’s got years left in him.”