Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill will keep place open for 'retired' Norwood to make Northern Ireland return

 

Oliver Norwood
Oliver Norwood

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill will keep the door open for Oliver Norwood despite the Northern Ireland manager's immense disappointment at the midfielder calling time on his international career at just 28 years of age.

Norwood announced yesterday through his club Sheffield United that he was retiring from duty, leaving the Green and White Army shocked that he would quit at such an early age, having won 57 caps and been a key figure under O'Neill.

The Northern Ireland boss did not hold back in his own public statement, declaring that Norwood was 'making a huge mistake' and that the decision was 'premature'.

O'Neill added that he felt the Blades star could 'continue to play international football for many years' and had the 'potential to reach 100 caps'.

Norwood - who thanked the fans, team-mates and O'Neill in his statement - had ruled himself out of squads for the opening four Euro 2020 qualifiers versus Estonia and Belarus when Northern Ireland claimed 12 points out of 12.

There are suggestions he wasn't happy about a dressing room discussion with the manager following a Nations League game with Bosnia.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that O'Neill met Norwood earlier this year to iron out any issues and was hopeful that the player would return for forthcoming Group C fixtures against Germany and Holland.

It can also be revealed that O'Neill won't shut the door on the ex-Brighton and Fulham ace, who famously laid on Gareth McAuley's goal in the Euro 2016 finals in the 2-0 win over Ukraine.

O'Neill wants as many players as possible performing at the highest club level, and with Sheffield United now in the Premier League, the Northern Ireland boss saw Norwood as an influential midfielder for his side moving forward. With that in mind should Norwood change his mind, he will be welcomed back into the fold.

In another blow for Northern Ireland, young defender Daniel Ballard looks set to be out of action for five months after suffering a knee injury while on loan to Swindon Town from Arsenal.

The 19-year-old would have been selected in O'Neill's squad for next month's friendly at home to Luxembourg and the Euro qualifier with Germany at Windsor Park but is unlikely to play again until 2020.

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