Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2020: I'm still the best man to lead Northern Ireland into play-off, says Michael O'Neill

 

By Paul Ferguson

Defiant Michael O'Neill has taken a swipe at his doubters by insisting he is the best man to lead Northern Ireland into the Euro 2020 play-offs in March - despite his new role as Stoke City boss.

Northern Ireland's courageous but ultimately disappointing 0-0 draw with the Netherlands at Windsor Park on Saturday night eliminated the men in green from automatic qualification and confirmed they must take the play-off route to gain entry to next year's finals in June.

The Irish FA are keen to have O'Neill in charge for the play-off push, making it one of their demands in their negotiations with Stoke, but questions have been raised, including by some of his ex-players, over whether the 50-year-old from Ballymena can 'double job' - especially as the Potters are currently battling to escape the relegation zone.

But O'Neill is adamant he is best placed to decide whether he can do the two jobs and actually believes it would be unfair on the players, association and new manager to bring in a fresh coaching set-up when so much is at stake.

"To be honest, there's nobody better than me to judge this because I actually do the job," stressed O'Neill, who landed in Frankfurt on Sunday night ahead of Tuesday evening's final qualifier with Germany.

O’Neill added: “The reality of the situation is to put a coach in to a play-off situation with three days’ preparation wouldn’t be fair to the players or the association because of what’s at stake. And it wouldn’t be fair on the coach to go and prepare.

“We know our team, we know our best team. We have one or two players to come back in — Conor Washington and Jordan Jones — but the squad picks itself other than that.”

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O’Neill, whose preparation and attention to detail is key to recent international success, believes Northern Ireland’s small  player pool means watching his squad members on a regular basis is not necessary. He is convinced he can easily combine the rigours of a tough Championship job with international management in March.

Northern Ireland will also find out their opponents for the play-offs in Friday’s draw in Nyon — leaving O’Neill and his team four months to execute a gameplan.

“I can pick my squad now, I could name it tomorrow,” insisted O’Neill.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who has managed his last home game at Windsor Park, pictured with team captain Steven Davis after the game finished 0-0. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who has managed his last home game at Windsor Park, pictured with team captain Steven Davis after the game finished 0-0. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who has managed his last home game at Windsor Park, pictured with team captain Steven Davis after the game finished 0-0. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis misses his penalty after Netherlands' Joel Veltman uses his arm to control the ball during Saturday night's UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Steven Davis misses his penalty after Netherlands' Joel Veltman uses his arm to control the ball during Saturday nights UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis takes a penalty which he fails to score as Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk looks on. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Pacemaker Belfast 16-11-19 Northern Ireland v Netherlands - Euro 2020 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis misses a penalty during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier Group C. Northern Ireland Vs Netherlands at the National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis takes a penalty which he fails to score at NetherlandsÕ captain Virgil van Dijk looks on. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Pacemaker - Belfast - -16/11/2019. Northern Ireland v Holland Euro 2020 Qualifier Windsor Park Belfast Netherland's Virgil van Dijk contests the ref penalty decision In tonight"s game At Windsor Park Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press
Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen saves a shot the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 16, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wireduring the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 16, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Pacemaker Belfast 16-11-19 Northern Ireland v Netherlands - Euro 2020 Qualifier Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Bailey Peacock-Farrell during Saturday nights UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Corry Evans with Netherlands' Davy Propper during Saturday nights UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 16th November 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland Bailey Peacock-Farrell against Netherlands during Saturday's EURO 2020 Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans with Netherlands' Jasper Cillessen during Saturday nights UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis during Saturday night's UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier against the Netherlands at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Pacemaker - Belfast - -16/11/2019. Northern Ireland v Holland Euro 2020 Qualifier Windsor Park Belfast Northern Ireland Josh Magennis shot just past the post In tonight"s game At Windsor Park Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland with Netherlands during Saturday nights UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland manager Micheal O'Neill with Chris Brunt before Saturday night's UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier against Netherlands at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier Group C. Northern Ireland Vs Netherlands at the National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 16th November 2019 UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier Group C. Northern Ireland Vs Netherlands at the National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Pacemaker - Belfast - -16/11/2019. Northern Ireland v Holland Euro 2020 Qualifier Windsor Park Belfast Dutch fan In tonight"s game At Windsor Park Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press

“I’ll be able to do that. That’s not a problem. Our opponents don’t play between now and then. We’re not going to watch individuals play for their clubs, so the work we have to do on the opponents, we’ll have that well in advance.

“I could watch 40 games or two games and 99% of the time, my squad will be pretty much the same, so people are making a lot out of this situation, which doesn’t exist.”

Depending on the play-off draw, Saturday night’s match with the Netherlands may have been O’Neill’s final game as international chief at Windsor Park.

“It doesn’t really feel like my last game here to be honest. I’ve got another game on Tuesday night and what will happen in the play-offs we’ll deal with that situation. We may well be back here again,” he said after the game.

“If it is my last game, I think the atmosphere here in Belfast is a little bit special. A really strong bond exists between the team and the supporters. Whoever comes in down the line needs to make sure they maintain that because it’s very important for the benefit of the team.

“I think this stadium used to be a place where at times our fans and players dreaded coming and our performances showed that. Now we have a great atmosphere and a group of players who love playing here.”

Micheal O'Neill at the final whistle
Micheal O'Neill at the final whistle

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