Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill will land top club job if Northern Ireland reach World Cup finals, says Jonny Evans

 

By Steven Beacom

Jonny Evans has admitted it will be impossible for Northern Ireland to hold on to manager Michael O'Neill if the team qualify for next year's World Cup finals.

The West Bromwich Albion defender, who scored in Monday's 2-0 home win over the Czech Republic to secure second spot in Group C and a probable place in the play-offs, is certain clubs would come calling for O'Neill after the tournament in Russia.

And the ex-Manchester United ace added that O'Neill would leave with the blessing of the players should a big move materialise.

Evans said he is surprised O'Neill, who signed a new £2m four-year contract with the Irish FA last year, wasn't snapped up by a Premier League club after the Euro 2016 finals. He does not believe Northern Ireland could be so lucky after taking part in a second major competition.

"I think it would be impossible to keep Michael if we qualified for the World Cup," Evans said.

"We're all surprised he hasn't moved on by now, but that's to our benefit, and if he did move on we would all be happy for him.

"Even though we wouldn't want to see him go we feel he deserves a crack at a good club and I would think there will be a lot of clubs looking at him now."

Evans added: "You can't say taking us to the Euros was a fluke because look at the position he has put us in for the World Cup.

"He just keeps getting better, he keeps getting more detailed and he puts you at ease going out on to the pitch because he knows everything about the opposition. We go out there with confidence."

While reaching the Euros was a stunning and historic effort given Northern Ireland had not qualified for a tournament for 30 years previously, Evans feels making it to a World Cup would be an even greater achievement.

"It would be the pinnacle, even for Michael. In midweek he spoke to us about how the challenge for him was to keep motivated to go and push on even further," said Evans, who made his international debut 11 years ago today in a famous David Healy inspired 3-2 victory over Spain.

"Qualifying for a World Cup would be a bigger achievement than reaching the Euros. We are proud of getting to the last 16 of the Euros but qualifying for a World Cup would top even that."

Next up for Northern Ireland is a home qualifier with Germany on October 5. Joachim Low's side defeated O'Neill's team 1-0 in the Euro finals and followed that up with a 2-0 victory in the current World Cup qualifiers.

Those games were in Paris and Hannover. Evans fancies Belfast will present a different challenge for the world champions.

Asked if O'Neill's men can cause a huge shock and beat the Germans, Evans said: "Of course, we have managed to have many great nights at Windsor Park.

"They are the best team in the world, along with Spain, at the moment and it will be difficult but, having played them twice in the last year, it will be nice to get them back to Windsor Park and see how they cope.

"Every time there is a big game at Windsor Park we look forward to it, and with the atmosphere we are always confident going into home games."

Evans revealed he was pleased with how he handled speculation surrounding his future while on international duty.

The 29-year-old centre-back looked set for a £30million transfer to Manchester City, but it didn't work out, while Arsenal and Leicester were also interested. It wouldn't be a surprise if Pep Guardiola tried another swoop for the player in January.

For now, though, Evans is keen to return to West Brom, where he is skipper, and play his first game of the season for the club having been injured in the early weeks.

He said: "I'm pleased that none of the speculation has affected me. I feel more determined than ever to try and improve and be a better player."

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