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'FIFA shouldn't allow it': Michael O'Neill's parting shot on eligibility row between Northern Ireland and Republic

 

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Michael O’Neill has issues over teenage players being forced to make career-binding decisions.

Michael O’Neill has issues over teenage players being forced to make career-binding decisions.

Michael O’Neill has issues over teenage players being forced to make career-binding decisions.

Michael O'Neill has ended his career as Northern Ireland boss with a parting shot about the eligibility issue in international football and called on Uefa and Fifa to change the rules regarding young players switching allegiance.

Two years ago O'Neill, a long standing critic of how eligibility works on the international scene, appealed to the Republic of Ireland and any other nation to steer clear of discussing a switch in allegiance with Northern Ireland's underage players.

He pointed out that players should be allowed to progress to senior level without having to make a decision about their international future which would be binding for the rest of their careers.

O'Neill's strong stance on the subject didn't always go down well with the FAI and led to some back and forth with then Republic manager Martin O'Neill. As he left the international stage the younger O'Neill stood his ground.

"Ultimately the choice belongs to the individual, I have never disputed that. My only grievance has been the issue of young players being put in a position where they were asked to change their international allegiance," he said.

"If a young player has made the decision at 17 or 18 to play for Northern Ireland, asking them to make a decision to change, a career-binding decision as well, one which cannot be reversed, putting a young player in that situation at 19 I don't think is a very fair thing to do.

"Players who were more senior, who wanted to make that decision to play for the Republic of Ireland, I had no issue with that. I just think that younger players, who are still trying to make their way in the game, should not be put in that position.

"It's not even about the FAI - ultimately Uefa and Fifa shouldn't allow it either. It's a shame for a player to be lost to international football, and we have seen some young players who have unfortunately experienced that. That can happen not only between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that happened between us and England with Dominic Ball, for example," said the Stoke City boss.

"That's something that is unfair of an Association to try to recruit a young player if he's already played for the country where he's born, without giving due consideration to having a real pathway for him."

O'Neill added that he felt in his time as boss Northern Ireland did as much as they could to keep young players, praising the Club NI programme and IFA Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton.

Belfast Telegraph