Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill has provided the blueprint for Steve Clarke to follow at Scotland, says McClair


Top drawer: Michael O’Neill’s work with NI has been hailed
Top drawer: Michael O’Neill’s work with NI has been hailed

By Steven Beacom

New Scotland boss Steve Clarke will be looking to recreate the magic of Michael O'Neill and Northern Ireland, according to Brian McClair.

Ex-Celtic and Manchester United ace McClair played with Clarke for Scotland at Under-21 and senior level and feels the former Kilmarnock manager is a shrewd choice for the post after a host of disappointments.

Scotland have not qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. In an attempt to change that, they moved for O'Neill, who had inspired Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals, after Gordon Strachan was sacked in 2017. O'Neill opted to stay put, landing a lucrative new contract with the Irish FA.

Alex McLeish was appointed by the Scots, but he left the post last month and Clarke has come in as his replacement.

"I think Michael, in the short time he has with the players, has created a kind of club environment because the pool that is available to him is limited in the sense of numbers, and he has taken them to a major tournament which was a great achievement," said McClair, who won 30 caps.

"It's a good shout that Steve would hope to do for Scotland what Michael has done for Northern Ireland.

"I think Scotland have a number of young players in most positions who could develop in a similar situation to how Northern Ireland and Wales have in recent times with the success they have had.

"It is a difficult time for him with lots of players coming off the back of a long domestic campaign and two big Euro 2020 qualifiers coming up against Cyprus and Belgium, but I'm sure he will be relishing it.

"It's a big challenge for him and I'm hoping he can create a nice environment where players can flourish for their country.

"Steve has enough experience in club football both in a coaching capacity and as a manager. He's just steered Kilmarnock to their most successful league campaign since the 1960s so I think it is a sound appointment."

There has been concern among Northern Ireland fans ahead of vital Euro 2020 qualifiers in Estonia and Belarus next month, with speculation surrounding O'Neill's future.

McClair said: "Northern Ireland have done exceptionally well in recent qualifying campaigns under Michael. There will always be clubs looking for coaches with the reputation he has and trying to tempt him.

"It then depends on Michael's ideas for his coaching in the present and in the future."

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