Belfast Telegraph

Keeping 'outstanding' Michael O'Neill after Euro 2016 is crucial for Northern Ireland: Davis

By Steven Beacom

Steven Davis has outlined why it is so important for Northern Ireland that Michael O'Neill stays on as manager beyond Euro 2016.

In a glowing testimony the Northern Ireland captain spoke about how the 'huge influence' of O'Neill inspired the team to qualify for the finals in France and his hope that the 46-year-old remains in charge for future tournaments.

The Southampton midfielder, though, is well aware that once Northern Ireland's Euro experience is over O'Neill is likely to be a wanted man with numerous clubs in England, Scotland and elsewhere keen to recruit him.

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last year O'Neill will soon sign a new four-year IFA deal with clauses in the contract allowing the manager to talk to interested clubs and the association to be well compensated should he move on.

Davis would prefer O'Neill to stick around and help Northern Ireland go from strength to strength.

The former Rangers star said: "The IFA have to make sure that they provide what Michael needs in order to keep him in the role for as long as possible.

"From a personal point of view I want him to stay beyond the Euro finals and I believe the rest of the players would feel the same way.

"Michael has obviously done a brilliant job with the senior team but he has taken time and effort to improve the youth strategy for Northern Ireland.

"That shows the character of the man because he hasn't just focused on the present. He has looked at how Northern Ireland can be stronger in the future."

Speaking about the impact O'Neill had on Northern Ireland qualifying for Euro 2016, Davis added: "Michael's influence has been huge. He really has been an outstanding manager for Northern Ireland.

"He has put the blocks in place for us to be a success. Everything we have done from the preparation for matches to the atmosphere created in the squad has been down to Michael.

"Tactically his knowledge is excellent and anything that he tells us has a method behind it.

"He has developed us into a team that wins games on a consistent basis.

"I think that is one of the most impressive things about the manager.

"In the games in the Euro campaign he gave us the best opportunity possible to get results.

"Everyone knows exactly what their roles are when they go out on the pitch, be it the boys who are regulars or those who have come into the side due to an injury or suspension.

"It is a great time to be playing for Northern Ireland and so much of that is down to Michael."

O'Neill will be delighted that Davis and three of his international team-mates - Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans -will feature on the same Premier League pitch tomorrow when Southampton host West Brom.

The Northern Ireland boss continues to be frustrated, however, by his star striker Kyle Lafferty's lack of game time at Norwich City insisting that he needs to leave in order to get minutes under his belt ahead of the Euro finals.

On that subject Davis says: "Kyle has shown his quality over the past 12 to 15 months at international level.

"He hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself at Norwich in the Premier League and I know how keen Kyle is to be sharp for the finals and to do that he needs to be playing.

"It's the same for all the boys. Michael wants to see all of the squad playing and at the highest level possible.

"This weekend Southampton take on West Brom and that could mean four Northern Ireland players involved in a Premier League game which doesn't happen very often. I'm looking forward to seeing Gareth, Chris and Jonny again, but at the same time I want to get a victory over them."

Belfast Telegraph