Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill slams 'belittling' comments from Oxford boss over Gavin Whyte's Northern Ireland call-up

By Paul Ferguson

A bullish Michael O'Neill has hit back at Oxford United manager Karl Robinson and told the League One chief to 'think before he speaks' after he criticised the Northern Ireland boss for selecting Gavin Whyte in his squad for the Nations League match against Austria and Monday evening's game in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Robinson, whose U's side are currently rooted to the bottom of League One with just six points from 12 league matches, is irate he cannot select starlet Whyte, signed from Crusaders in the summer, for Saturday's important clash with Plymouth Argyle.

"I asked if (Gavin) could come back," Robinson said.

"I feel low with that, because if we hadn’t signed Gavin Whyte, he wouldn’t have been there.

"It’s not like we’ve got a top international player who has been there year-in, year-out and earned their stripes playing somewhere else.

"He would have been playing for the under 21s probably, but we would have probably got special dispensation for that with where we are right now.

"They will say they’ve got a job to do, but we’ve got jobs to keep, players have families to feed.

"I’m gutted, it’s a big one to take. It’s frustrating for everybody."

Flying high: Gavin Whyte

But O'Neill insists Robinson is in incorrect with his facts and that Whyte, having been brought on the tour to Central America at the end of last season, is very much an international and an important member of his squad.

Attacking midfielder Whyte made his international debut in the friendly victory over Israel last month, scoring with his first touch after coming on as a second half substitute.

“I was quite surprised at that to be honest,” claimed O'Neill in Vienna tonight.

“If you sign an international player why do you then object to him playing international football?

Karl Robinson (Dave Howarth/PA)

"Gavin White was a senior international, in terms of he came in the squad with us in the summer.

"I believe Karl is claiming that he has made him into an international player in the five games he’s started for Oxford this season. So very surprised by that.

“I thought the comments that Gavin is not an important player for us is a bit belittling of the player, given that Gavin was named in the original squad.

“He said if he have been part of our Under-21 squad then he would have be given special dispensation for him to miss that. I assure you he wouldn’t.”

O'Neill is adamant that Whyte, having impressed for Oxford United, has an excellent chance of playing some part in either the match against Austria or on Monday night in Sarajevo.

“Gavin White is a player who is in my thoughts to start in both of these games,” adds O'Neill.

“This is why we picked him in the squad.

“I’m amazed. I’ve been in this job six years and I’ve yet to come across a club manager who leaves out a player at the weekend because I’ve got an important international match during the week. That’s never happened in the six years we’ve had.

“We went into the qualifying games for the World Cup and the Euros, and I didn’t go to the club manager and say ‘would you mind leaving him out on Saturday in case he gets hurt’.

“It’s an unfortunate thing for League One managers that their games aren’t all called off. That’s out of my control.

“I can guarantee that you if a club comes in for Gavin White, the first thing Oxford United will say is that he’s an international player.

“To be an international player you have to turn up and play. Gavin is delighted to be here, so I think Karl should maybe think before he speak.”

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