Belfast Telegraph

SFA know that Michael O'Neill ticks every box needed to inspire Tartan Army

 

By Graham Luney

It may appear highly unlikely that Michael O'Neill would accept the Scotland job, particularly with Northern Ireland about to contest a play-off to make the World Cup finals, but surely we can all understand why the 48-year-old would be in the conversation when Scottish FA chiefs decide their next move?

While Gordon Strachan's reign was two campaigns, two failures, O'Neill has written one of the greatest ever international fairytale stories... and it's not over yet.

The former Shamrock Rovers chief has delivered a masterclass in getting a once ridiculed international side to punch above its weight.

A place in the top 20 of Fifa's world rankings seemed impossible when Northern Ireland sunk as low as 129th in 2012.

Too many qualifying campaigns after the 1986 World Cup ended without fireworks, but O'Neill has earned the title of miracle worker after guiding Northern Ireland to the last 16 of Euro 2016 and now into a World Cup play-off spot against either Switzerland, Italy, Denmark or Croatia.

This country has never made it to back-to-back major tournaments, but that historic achievement is within sight thanks to O'Neill's meticulous preparation, tactical nous and man management.

Why wouldn't Scotland wait to see how Northern Ireland perform in the play-offs and then make a move for O'Neill, who may think it was time for a career change?

He's a proven winner at international level, capable of inspiring players who don't play at the world's best clubs to find a real sense of belonging and burning ambition in a Northern Ireland jersey.

Following their Euro 2016 heroics, the players' hunger could have dwindled, and when the World Cup qualifying draw placed us in a group with Germany the nation's heart sank, but O'Neill and his men, some of whom cancelled retirement plans, became even stronger.

Michael lives in Edinburgh and his knowledge of the Scottish game is considerable.

His club coaching career started at Brechin City and before that his playing days included spells with Dundee United, Hibernian, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Clydebank and Ayr United.

The Scottish FA would also have the finances to lure O'Neill and, while some observers may feel that the Northern Ireland boss is waiting on a top club job to arise, he has expressed fears over such a move saying: "The direction a club goes in now, I'm not sure the manager has influence."

O'Neill, whose contract runs until June 2020, has been mysteriously overlooked by club bosses, but at international level he has earned worldwide respect.

He will not want to jump ship right now as he may also feel that should he guide Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals in Russia next summer his stock will rise even further.

Scotland, starved of tournament action since 1998, need a man like O'Neill who can blow away the international cobwebs.

He's the perfect choice to get the Tartan Army moving again but he still has work to do with the Green and White Army and historic battles to win.

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