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I want to stay on as Northern Ireland coach to help continue success under new boss, says Jimmy Nicholl

 

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Word of advice: Jimmy Nicholl speaks with Michael O'Neill

Word of advice: Jimmy Nicholl speaks with Michael O'Neill

At the Euro 2016 finals

At the Euro 2016 finals

Billy Bingham

Billy Bingham

Word of advice: Jimmy Nicholl speaks with Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland great Jimmy Nicholl has revealed that he would love to continue working with the team should the new manager want to keep him.

 

Nicholl has been a hugely popular figure amongst the players and staff since Michael O'Neill brought him into his backroom set-up in 2015.

When O'Neill was in charge he consistently spoke of Nicholl's importance for morale and guidance, pointing out how vital his experience and football knowledge could be.

The Northern Ireland players will tell you that a wise word from Nicholl in the build-up to games or a funny story to ease the tension has been invaluable to them at crucial times.

Former Manchester United and Rangers defender Nicholl played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and was assistant manager at the Euro 2016 finals, making him the only man to be directly involved in Northern Ireland's last three appearances at major tournaments.

O'Neill was due to be at the helm for Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia & Herzegovina but with Covid-19 bringing football to a halt, potential new dates made it impossible for him to carry on and combine it with his job as Stoke City manager.

Nicholl (63) has admitted that when O'Neill stepped away from the manager's role last month, he initially thought that his spell on the international scene should come to an end but now states that if the new boss is keen to have him on his staff he will be there with bells on when football resumes.

"I felt like the luckiest man in the world to come in and work with Michael and the boys in 2015," said Nicholl, who won 73 caps. "I was chatting to him after it was announced that he was leaving and I said to him, 'I have had a good run at it and it has been great'.

"I was upset for Michael that he didn't have the chance to take the side for the play-offs, then you settle down and I have been thinking whoever takes over that I wouldn't mind continuing what I am doing."

Modestly, he added: "It isn't much but I would love to stay. The lads are great and there is a magnificent blend in the team with experience and young lads coming through like we had in the '80s. They are also a good group of people and there's always real excitement with them when we are building up to the games."

Nicholl feels that the Irish FA's job of replacing O'Neill is similar to the task faced when a successor to the legendary Billy Bingham had to be made.

On O'Neill's influence, Nicholl said: "Michael transformed Northern Ireland. When you look at the success he had, you have to remember how it started for him. There were quite a few defeats early on and the record wasn't great so to come through all that, it shows the character of the man and the work he was doing behind the scenes.

"It also shows you all the problems he had to deal with which helped him cope with testing issues down the line.

"He had a lot of decisions to make with people not turning up and not interested because the side was getting beaten. When results don't go for you at the start you fear for yourself as a manager but behind all that he was making strong decisions that helped him and the team.

"What the IFA did was make a really good decision to stick by Michael while he was making those difficult decisions to get him through that period.

"Michael created a good atmosphere amongst the boys. He is funny and has a good sense of humour and he knew exactly how to handle the players. That's what the new manager has to realise, that the Northern Ireland lads are not prima donnas and are very level-headed and just love playing for their country.

"I think for Michael in his reign a big moment was the South American tour when we played Uruguay and Chile in 2014.

"We may have lost both games but the performances with the squad he had over there were good and it was also a solid bonding trip with the players and the staff. He finally found that things were being put in place that he was happy with and that was the start of it. He had to go through a lot before that.

"That's what I am saying about the character and football intelligence of the man, sticking by what he thought was right and making tough decisions.

"Then over the piece he made smart decisions when it came to picking the team, be that dropping players or changing the system. All of that counts and brings you results. Michael's era turned out to be a hugely successful one for Northern Ireland and now I wish him well at Stoke."

Belfast Telegraph