Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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In-demand Michael O'Neill would succeed at West Brom, says Arsenal legend Jennings

 

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has emerged as one of the leading contenders for the West Brom job and Northern Ireland legend Pat Jennings can understand why the Baggies have a keen interest in the 48-year-old.

When the Irish FA granted their Scottish counterparts permission to open talks with the Northern Ireland boss, it appeared highly likely the former Shamrock Rovers chief was set to switch his international allegiance.

But after almost steering his country to back-to-back major tournaments for the first time, O'Neill's astonishing managerial achievements have attracted the attention of clubs with West Brom now contemplating making a move.

With the club sitting 17th in the Premier League table after going on a run of 11 matches without a win, the axe fell on Tony Pulis yesterday and O'Neill was an early favourite with the bookies, with other contenders such as former England boss Sam Allardyce and Aberdeen chief Derek McInnes also fancied.

The 4-0 defeat by Chelsea on Saturday made it only two wins in 21 matches, a dismal record which forced the club to act.

O'Neill has expressed concerns in the past regarding the precarious nature of club management in England, but the opportunity to take charge of a Premier League side would still be a tantalising prospect.

A swift reunion with Northern Ireland internationals Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans cannot be ruled out and Jennings feels O'Neill would be a good appointment at The Hawthorns.

"Michael seems to be linked with a lot of clubs as well as Scotland, but that's understandable when you consider the job he has done," said Jennings, Northern Ireland's most capped player with 119.

"It will all depend on what he wants and whether it suits him. Does he want to stay in international management or does he fancy the day to day involvement of club football?

"If he feels ambitious enough then the prospect of a Premier League job might be appealing.

"Michael already knows a few of the boys there in Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley, and if a job in the Premier League interests him I'm sure he can go into West Brom and be successful.

"After coming so close to guiding Northern Ireland to back-to-back major tournaments for the first time his stock is high, and he's done it without having an unbelievable squad of players.

"He's earned the right to manage in the Premier League and, though it would be sad to see him leave Northern Ireland, I'm confident that if he felt it was the right move for him he would do a great job at a club like West Brom.

"I feel sorry for Tony Pulis, I felt he was doing a brilliant job at West Brom but a few bad results and you're gone."

O'Neill has been offered a new and improved deal by the Irish FA and Jennings, who will support the 2017 McDonald's IFA Community Awards at the Guildhall in Londonderry on Thursday, is hoping the former Hibernian and Dundee United midfielder goes nowhere.

"I'd like to see him stay with Northern Ireland and keep rebuilding the team," said the former Spurs and Arsenal favourite.

"He has done a fantastic job but it's hard for the rest of us to second guess what will be a personal decision.

"Managers in the club game sometimes don't get a lot of time, and they could be out of a job after a few games, but they still get a nice pay day at the end of it!

"If we lose Michael then we lose all that knowledge he has of the Northern Ireland players and his superb man management skills, but I've no doubt the supporters will be keen to thank him for everything.

"The manner in which we lost the play-off against Switzerland was hard to take, the penalty decision was unbelievable.

"I have heard many complaints about referee decisions in recent weeks and it's becoming more clear that video technology will help the officials get the big calls right in the big games.

"Unfortunately it will come too late for us though. The Republic of Ireland know how we feel after the Thierry Henry handball in 2009 and when mistakes like that are highlighted you've got to minimise the risk of them happening again."

Talks on O'Neill's future have been put on hold while the Northern Ireland boss grieves the loss of his mother Patricia, with the funeral taking place tomorrow.

"I'm very saddened to learn of the passing of Michael's mother," added Jennings. "I will speak to him and offer my condolences.

"It's always very difficult when you lose a mother or father.

"My son Patrick worked with Michael at Shamrock Rovers and it was clear even then he was going to become a top-class manager."

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