Belfast Telegraph

Billy Hamilton: O'Neill right to move on, now give the job to Jimmy Nichol

Jimmy Nicholl
Jimmy Nicholl

By Billy Hamilton

Michael O'Neill has made the right choice. Going to Stoke City at this time in his career is the correct call.

He has been a great servant to the country and deserves this opportunity to show he can cut it in club management in England.

He could have moved on two years ago when his stock was even higher but he showed loyalty to Northern Ireland and stayed in the role to try and get us through the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

That loyalty remains because even with going to Stoke, he will still be Northern Ireland's manager for the final group games against the Netherlands and Germany and the expected play-offs in March. That is a remarkable development.

When this latest club chance came along, he couldn't say no. Stoke may be struggling in the Championship right now but given time Michael will be thinking that he can take them back to the Premier League, plus he is doubling his money so it would have been extremely hard to turn that down.

He has worked wonders with Northern Ireland, taking the team to the Euro 2016 finals being the highlight.

He is an organised, tuned-in manager and knows all about what players want in the modern game as well as having excellent man management skills.

If he can bring to Stoke what he has done for Northern Ireland, they will love him over there.

When the time comes it will be crucial to pick the right successor for Michael but managers would admit themselves that success or failure is mostly down to the players you have to work with.

Sometimes a manager can be lucky, taking over a set of players who are the right age group and can mature and drive on together.

If you look at big players during Michael's reign like Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty, they are approaching the end of their international careers, Jonny Evans is not getting any younger and already Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes have retired. All huge figures for Northern Ireland.

What I think Michael sees at the moment is ageing players in key areas and that will be difficult to compensate for whoever comes in.

Fans are going to have to be patient.

I'd like to see Jimmy Nicholl get a run at it but the IFA will probably look for younger blood.

Ideally, I would stick with someone from Northern Ireland because I think players relate to a Northern Irish manager more.

There are various names out there like Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton who have great experience. There's also Stephen Robinson at Motherwell who knows the players from having worked under Michael with Northern Ireland previously.

The last time a manager who had taken Northern Ireland to major tournaments left, it was Billy Bingham. Billy proved a tough act to follow and it will be the same with Michael when he eventually moves on.

Wouldn't it be great if that was after he managed the team in the Euro 2020 finals?

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