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.
“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.”