Northern Ireland supporters should trust manager Michael O'Neill to make the right decision about his future with the team and be given time to do it, according to Terry Neill, who knows all about combining club and international duties.
hen O'Neill was appointed Stoke City boss in November, a deal was reached allowing him to be in charge of Northern Ireland's final two Euro 2020 qualifiers and the play-offs in March. He was also in line to lead the side in the summer tournament had they qualified.
With the coronavirus pandemic bringing football to a halt and no new date for the play-off semi-final against Bosnia & Herzegovina plus the finals postponed until 2021, there is serious doubt relating to whether O'Neill, who inspired the national team to Euro 2016, will manage his country again given the demands of his job with Championship outfit Stoke.
Former Arsenal boss Neill has been there and done the double. Incredibly, for a three-year spell in the early 1970s he was player-manager of Hull City and occupied the same dual role with Northern Ireland. Even when he took over Spurs in 1974, he continued to guide his country for a short spell.
Neill insists with no Northern Ireland games on the horizon, the current boss does not have to rush a decision and is confident the 50-year-old will make the correct call.
"Everyone should trust Michael to make the right call regarding his Northern Ireland future when the time comes," said Neill. "He has made many good decisions concerning the Northern Ireland team in the past and I would have faith he will make the right decision this time."
Neill continued: “With respect to Northern Ireland, Michael’s loyalty is now to his club and I’m sure that will be considered by the IFA.
“There was a very amicable agreement between Michael, Stoke and the IFA after he took over the Stoke job and I thought all three parties deserved credit for that.
“In time we shall see what happens next but I believe Michael will do what he feels is best for Northern Ireland.”
Asked about his experience of managing at both club and international level, Neill stated: “I look back and often say to friends I don’t know how I did it.
“I must have been mad because I was actually playing for Hull City and managing the team and doing exactly the same with Northern Ireland. I was travelling around 3,000 miles per week.”
The workload wasn’t even Neill’s biggest problem.
When the 77-year-old was boss, opposition teams refused to travel to play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park because of the Troubles and he faced death threats.
“I was getting death threats and getting parcels sent to me at Hull City,” said Neill.
“In the parcels there were all sorts of wires and the local police obviously then became involved.
“I had to go and get a special mirror to look underneath the car and of course it was concerning but at the same time I just had to get on with it because I was so busy as player-manager of Hull and player-manager of Northern Ireland.
“Another issue as Northern Ireland boss was that we had to play our home games away from home because no teams would come to Belfast.
“Harry Cavan, the then IFA president and a great man, said that, ‘If they won’t come to Belfast we will have to meet them halfway’.
“I said to him, ‘Well, what about the Isle of Man?’ We all had a good laugh about that.
“We had to play home games at Fulham, Hull and Sheffield Wednesday which on reflection was crazy.
“The funny thing is that I didn’t think managing Hull and Northern Ireland was tough at the time.
“The truth is that when I was asked to do the international job, I couldn’t refuse my country.”