Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill is no faul guy

Eight losses in 15, but that's the message from the man who gave NI boss big break

Results continue to be disappointing for Michael O'Neill, but according to the man responsible for giving him his opportunity in big time football, the Northern Ireland manager's methods and ideas will bear fruit for the country in the future.

Willie 'Iam' McFaul, states emphatically that the teenager he signed as Newcastle United boss from Coleraine in 1987, is doing a fine job in charge of Northern Ireland.

Some fans will disagree with that assessment, given that after Friday's 1-0 friendly defeat in Turkey, O'Neill has now lost eight of his 15 matches at the helm, winning just one.

McFaul's declaration of support, though, is worth listening to.

The former Linfield goalkeeper, who would have won more than six Northern Ireland caps but for the brilliance of Pat Jennings, knows all about the difficulties of leading the national side from his spell in the backroom team when Bryan Hamilton was the boss.

Now 70, McFaul keeps a close eye on all things football, in particular how O'Neill is performing.

McFaul says: "I'm glad the IFA extended his contract. I do believe he deserved that.

"What he is doing behind the scenes with the coaching set up at youth level and the way he is going about the job at senior level has to be appreciated – and I think it is by me and other professionals.

"Michael has shown he is not afraid to throw young players in which I like. I feel that policy can bear fruit in the long run.

"As we all know however, football is a results business and Michael could do with a win or two going into the Euro 2016 campaign to build momentum.

"Unfortunately results have not gone the way we would have hoped, but some of the performances have been very good.

"What he needs is to combine those good performances with good results and everyone will be happy."

To achieve that, McFaul believes O'Neill needs three things to happen; good fortune, a player who can take the chances being carved out and for key players to be consistently available, which has been rare due to injuries and suspension.

In the last World Cup qualifying campaign, key players Chris Brunt, Kyle Lafferty and Jonny Evans all collected needless red cards and bans while several others were booked twice meaning they missed vital games as well.

McFaul (pictured) states: "Michael has the players on his side, that is clear to see, and going forward towards the European Championships he needs a bit of luck because remember he doesn't have a David Healy type character who can bang in the goals when opportunities come.

"Watching Northern Ireland under Michael they create enough chances but don't put the ball in the net.

"I also feel he wasn't helped in the last World Cup campaign by senior players picking up unnecessary red cards.

"The manager needs all the help he can get and that means all of his players staying on the pitch and all of his key players turning up in the first place.

"I worked with Bryan Hamilton when he was in charge of the national side with Gerry Armstrong and the most frustrating thing was players withdrawing from the squad.

"When you are Northern Ireland manager, you need your big players available otherwise the job becomes that much harder."

As for O'Neill, the player, McFaul has nothing but praise for the former midfielder who he signed for Newcastle as an 18-year-old to play alongside the likes of a young Paul Gascoigne and fellow new recruit Brazilian striker Mirandinha.

"I heard about him when he was a youngster and made an effort to see him when he was playing in a European match with Coleraine at Dundee United," recalls McFaul.

"After watching him play I tried to sign him there and then and made an offer.

"A week or so later I got a call from Coleraine and we got the deal done with Michael. He was a really good signing for us and did a great job for me.

"I remember in his first reserve game for us he scored two goals and the rest of the boys at Newcastle were asking 'how did I get him?' because they had been so impressed.

"We had a very young side at Newcastle at the time and not much money . I was happy to throw young players into the first team if I felt they could handle it and Michael could.

"He played alongside Paul Gascoigne and was very good. I think he scored something like 11 goals in his first season with us and the fans took to him.

"After his time with Newcastle he moved to Dundee United and played for other clubs in Scotland and England and I always kept a close eye on his career. When he became the manager of Northern Ireland I was delighted."

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