O’Neill can pull our wee country out of the doldrums
Brendan Rodgers was just 16 when he left home. That was 23 years ago.
Northern Ireland was a different place back then to what it is now. Like night and day. The darkness that surrounded the country has been replaced with a bright new feeling of hope for the future without violence.
And from across the Irish Sea, Brendan has enjoyed watching the transformation.
“I really love and enjoy seeing the modern Northern Ireland,” he says.
“It gives me great pride to see how the place has come on. It always has been a wonderful place but it was always knocked down because of the Troubles.
“What we see now is a great way forward for both communities and hopefully people like myself can keep promoting them.
“Even though I'm over here in Swansea, I always try to promote the new Northern Ireland and tell people about the place and the wonderful talent there is at home, like Rory McIlroy for instance. He’s a wonderful kid.
“For so long the divide was horrible and so sad but now the peace there is great to see and something which is good for everyone.”
The ‘new Northern Ireland’ could have had the Carnlough man as its international football team manager.
The Irish FA were interested in offering Rodgers the post on a part-time basis when Nigel Worthington departed last year, but it was never going to be a runner for the man himself or Swansea City.
Rodgers says, however, that at some stage in his career he would like a crack at managing his country.
“Some day in my life I would like that job. Hopefully somewhere along the line I can do it,” he states.
“It won't be for many years yet and certainly there would be no prouder man if it ever comes along.”
In the meantime he is content to watch and support Michael O'Neill, who the Irish FA appointed as Worthington's successor.
“Michael is a great choice. He's a guy who was a top player and has done very well so far in his short career as manager. It's a difficult job but I think he is the perfect fit for it and can take the country forward,” he added.
It is possible that Brendan's son Anton, attempting to carve out a career with Brighton, could play under O'Neill in the future.
The Republic of Ireland have already shown an interest in Rodgers junior, who was born in England, and now Northern Ireland have made their move.
“I've spoken to Gerry Armstrong and the Northern Ireland under-21 manager Stephen Robinson about Anton and hopefully something can develop with that.
“I'd be proud of that as my children have been brought up very much Northern Irish — but right now his main priority is to carve out a professional career.
“Anton has played for Brighton in the FA Cup this season which was great. He's developing well at Brighton and enjoys being there and they like him. It's tough trying to be a football player but hopefully he'll keep plugging away. He's at a great place at Brighton. They are a club going forward.”
If Anton shows his dad’s determination he will have a chance of forging a fine career.
“I left home young when I was just 16 and when my playing career finished through injury I could have very easily returned to Northern Ireland but I stuck at it in England and got into coaching,” recalls Rodgers senior.
“I stayed away because I wanted to be the best I possibly could.”
Many believe the best manager on the planet is a certain Jose Mourinho, who Rodgers worked under at Chelsea.
They still keep in touch but while Real Madrid boss Jose labelled himself ‘the Special One’, when taking over at Stamford Bridge, Brendan takes a more modest approach.
“I don't see myself as anyone special or different,” he says.
“I'm no different to a plumber or a joiner. I just know I'm blessed to work in the profession that I do and will never take it for granted.
“My ego doesn't go with my title of Barclays Premier League manager. I'd still be the same person without that.”