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Keith Gillespie: Clubs will be lining up for Northern Ireland boss O'Neill after World Cup

 

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World dream: Keith Gillespie wants Michael O’Neill to see through his World Cup quest with Northern Ireland

World dream: Keith Gillespie wants Michael O’Neill to see through his World Cup quest with Northern Ireland

Special agents: Keith Gillespie now runs the OneTwo football agency alongside former Irish League player Brian Adair

Special agents: Keith Gillespie now runs the OneTwo football agency alongside former Irish League player Brian Adair

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World dream: Keith Gillespie wants Michael O’Neill to see through his World Cup quest with Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland great Keith Gillespie is convinced that manager Michael O'Neill will enter club management in the future, but hopefully only after he has created history and qualified for back-to-back tournaments.

Gillespie, who won 86 caps, believes O'Neill can leave a lasting legacy by taking Northern Ireland to next year's World Cup finals, having already guided the side to Euro 2016.

The former Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn winger insists O'Neill could handle a big club job in England and says in time he should follow that path. Just not before a trip to Russia.

With Northern Ireland currently in runners-up spot in Group C, O'Neill is preparing the squad for the vital June 10 clash against Azerbaijan in Baku, where victory would cement the second place position which would earn a play-off.

Prior to that is Friday's friendly at Windsor Park versus New Zealand.

Looking further down the road, with several clubs in England on the hunt for a new manager, Gillespie makes fascinating observations about O'Neill's future.

"I think at some stage we will lose Michael, but I'm hoping he will want to see this campaign through," stated Gillespie.

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"It's testament to what he has done, because when you're successful you're going to get clubs showing an interest and wanting you.

"He has proved he can do it with a small country like ourselves. We have to overachieve to be successful and we have done that in the past three years.

"At some stage he'll want to get back into the day to day routine of club management and without a doubt he could manage in England. You only have to look at what he achieved with Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League, taking them into the group stages.

"You wouldn't have envisaged that. I know Dundalk achieved the same, but Michael was the first to do it.

"It is difficult when you have the influx of foreign managers coming into the game, but clubs should be looking to more home-grown managers.

"Michael has proved he can do it at a smaller club like Shamrock Rovers, and also a smaller country with Northern Ireland.

"Remember, he had a very difficult start and a lot of fans were maybe wanting him out after the first 14 months or so.

"He has managed to turn our fortunes around and has us playing with a lot of belief. The players don't fear anyone anymore which is down to the job Michael has done."

Alongside ex-Irish League player Brian Adair, Gillespie now runs a football agency called OneTwo. Asked what advice he would give to O'Neill with his agent's hat on, he said: "I would just say, in terms of the legacy he could put down, qualifying for back-to-back tournaments would be unbelievable.

"If he did that he would become the first Northern Ireland manager to achieve it, which would be incredible. There is no reason why he can't see this campaign out and then see what happens after that.

"He is having another remarkable campaign, and things will happen after that. He has made a great name for himself in management and I think there will always be opportunities there for Michael.

"I played with Michael, so I know what kind of person he is. He is very bright and intelligent, not like most footballers, and he will know the right time to make that move."

Gillespie makes the point that, while the squad is strong at present, it will be difficult for whoever is in charge when the likes of experienced campaigners such as Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Steven Davis call it a day at international level.

"The problem is in the future when these players retire. It's when we lose the likes of Davis, McAuley etc. That experience is hard to fill," stated Gillespie.

"We endured something similar in the 1980s when about six or seven key players all retired at the same time - we then went through a lean spell.

"So that is going to be difficult and it remains to be seen whether Michael will be at the helm when that happens, or if he will have moved on."


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