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Northern Ireland managers in the club game: what Michael O'Neill has to live up to from those who have gone before him



Former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez

Former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez

Former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez

When he took over as manager of Stoke City, no doubt the main goal that Michael O'Neill will have will be to return to the Premier League.

You'd imagine that was the intention from the Potters' chiefs as well when they appointed him, with O'Neill seen as the man who could lead them back to the promised land.

So far he has a 100% record with Stoke, leading them to a 4-2 win over Championship relegation rivals Barnsley on Saturday, and by all accounts the fans have taken to him too.

But how successful have Northern Ireland managers been after moving on to supposedly 'bigger and better' things?

In actual fact, the track record shows us rather polarising results when it comes to managers leaving the role and trying to make it big in the club game.

Four managers in the past have left the Northern Ireland job and have gone on to coach at the top level of English football, and while O'Neill isn't there yet, it's no doubt his intended final destination.

Here's who he will be stacking up against from years gone by when it comes to both successes and failures of Northern Irish managers trying to make it in the top flight.

(Dates in brackets indicate years in charge of Northern Ireland national team)


Former Northern Ireland international Terry Neill at the funeral of Malcolm Brodie at Cregagh Presbyterian Church (Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press)

Former Northern Ireland international Terry Neill at the funeral of Malcolm Brodie at Cregagh Presbyterian Church (Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press)

Former Northern Ireland international Terry Neill at the funeral of Malcolm Brodie at Cregagh Presbyterian Church (Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press)

Terry Neill (1971-75)

Without doubt the most successful Northern Irish manager to go on and coach in the club game, Neill was just as good in the dug-out as he was on the pitch, if not better.

After amassing 241 appearances for Arsenal and a further 103 for Hull City in a glittering career that saw him capped 59 times for Northern Ireland, Neill took his talents to coaching.

The Belfast-born defender was player-manager at Hull from 1970-73, then retired from playing and stayed on as manager at the Tigers for one more year after that.

At the same time he took charge of the national side, adopting the same role as player-manager initially before retiring from playing in '73.

After four years in Hull, he was approached by Tottenham Hotspur to take over in 1974 and in his first campaign he barely avoided relegation with the side.

However, he vastly improved their fortunes in his second season, leading Spurs to a ninth-placed finish in the First Division (now the Premier League), earning him a move to manage Arsenal in 1976 and become the club's youngest manager at just 34.

By this stage, Neill had resigned as manager of Northern Ireland and was focusing solely on his club management career, and that allowed him to take off with Arsenal.

His time with the Gunners was an undisputed success, with Neill leading them to three consecutive FA Cup finals from 1978-80, winning it in 1979 against Manchester United.

Under Neill's stewardship, Arsenal also made it to the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final in 1980, before he also took them to third in the First Division in 1981.

In 1983, Arsenal reached both the semi-finals of the FA Cup and League Cup, however they lost both to Manchester United, which ended Neill's hopes of winning one more trophy.

He was dismissed on 16 December 1983 and retired from all footballing activity at the young age of just 41.

Billy Bingham

Billy Bingham (1967-71, 80-93)

He will be remembered for leading Northern Ireland to back-to-back World Cups as a manager, but Billy Bingham also had a successful club career too.

The Belfast-born boss made a name for himself as a player, playing 206 games for Sunderland, 87 for then-First Division side Luton Town and another 86 for Everton.

His exploits as a player also led to 56 caps for Northern Ireland over a 12-year period, which would eventually lead to him taking charge of the team from 1967-71.

While it would be his second spell in charge, from 1980-93, that will be better remembered given where he took the side, in between he had success as a club boss.

Bingham became manager at Everton in May 1973 and in his first season with the club led them to seventh in the First Division, narrowly missing out on the UEFA Cup, before a fourth-placed finish in 1975.

However, a decline in performances the following season saw them finish 11th, and Bingham was dismissed in January 1977, but his stewardship ensured he has the second-best finish of a Northern Irish manager in the First Division of all time.


Lawrie Sanchez (William Cherry)

Lawrie Sanchez (William Cherry)


Lawrie Sanchez (William Cherry)

Lawrie Sanchez (2004-07)

Had some notable results during his tenure with the national side - including that 1-0 win over England and a 3-2 win over Spain - and took them to a then-high of 27th in the world.

However, his forays into club management following his Northern Ireland days were nowhere near as successful, and it is wondered if he perhaps took the plunge too early.

After being named caretaker manager at Fulham following the sacking of Chris Coleman in April 2007, he kept them in the Premier League and was named permanent manager.

However, despite signing familiar faces in David Healy, Steven Davis, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird, Sanchez's time in charge was a disaster as they fell into the relegation zone, leading to his sacking in December 2007.

He had two brief spells in charge of Barnet and Greek side Apollon Smyrnis, but has not coached since April 2014.

Danny Blanchflower

Danny Blanchflower (1976-79)

His playing career needs no introduction, with 382 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur speaking for itself, as do the four trophies he won as captain of the club.

In 1961 he managed the double of the First Division title and FA Cup, then added another FA Cup victory to his resume in 1962, followed by the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1963.

However, the no-nonsense midfielder, who was voted Spurs' greatest ever player in a poll run by The Times in 2009, could not translate his supreme presence on the pitch to the dug-out.

After being overlooked for the Spurs job when it went to the aforementioned Terry Neill in 1974, he spent a brief spell in charge of the Northern Ireland national team for three years.

In 1978, he was appointed as manager at Chelsea, however he won just five of his 32 games in charge and he left the club in September 1979.

Belfast Telegraph