Belfast Telegraph

How Michael O'Neill can inspire Northern Ireland to a win over Germany: Jimmy Nicholl

N Ireland v Germany, World Cup Qualifying Group C: Windsor Park , Thursday, 7.45pm

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland legend Jimmy Nicholl says the current crop of internationals will be in 'dreamland' if they defeat World Champions Germany at Windsor Park on Thursday.

Nicholl, assistant manager to Michael O'Neill, knows all about beating the mighty Germans having been a key figure in Billy Bingham's side when Northern Ireland won 1-0 in Belfast 35 years ago in a European Championship qualifier.

The former Manchester United and Rangers defender also played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals under Bingham and is loving life working with O'Neill's side who are poised for a November play-off to make next year's World Cup in Russia.

Nicholl sees similarities between Bingham and O'Neill and insists crucial factors in the latter's success as Northern Ireland manager are discipline and developing a club spirit amongst the group.

The former Raith Rovers boss adds that O'Neill's team briefings are highly motivational, suggesting when they are over he feels like putting the boots on all over again, even at the age of 61!

Nicholl said: "Billy Bingham brought a discipline to Northern Ireland. When he said you won't be overlapping away to Bulgaria you'd said 'you're joking aren't you?' and he would say 'No, you won't be overlapping'. Then we'd win 1-0 away from home and all of sudden you don't mind that discipline.

"If it means you are going to win a game of football and see Northern Ireland up at the top of the table rather than the bottom then you are going to do it.

"You expect most managers to be able to know about organisation and discipline but it is the way they put it over. There is no point in sitting in a meeting and the manager telling you something and it going in one ear and out the other for whatever reason.

"When certain people talk to you in a certain way it can be very telling. Billy Bingham would talk to us at 4.30pm and I couldn't wait to play our game three hours later.

"It is the same with the current Northern Ireland side. When there is a meeting at 5.30pm at the Culloden Hotel (the team base) and then 10 or 15 minutes before the kick-off when the manager has that final few words with the players I'm ready to put the boots on myself. Certain people have a way of putting things over and that means a lot.

"Michael will tell the players what he wants from them and they go out and do it. He could go four at the back or three at the back and everything falls into place.

"He has done a fantastic job. You have to remember where he came from in this job because it wasn't an easy situation when he took over. For me that makes what he has achieved even more remarkable."

On facing the Germans, Nicholl, who won 73 caps, said: "After the 1982 World Cup finals, we had West Germany in our group in the Euro 84 qualifiers and we beat them home and away. We were very unlucky not to qualify then.

"I remember the night Ian Stewart scored the winner at Windsor and we had to cope with wave after wave of attack from the German team.

"They kept coming but we stood up to them and there is enough about our players to stand up to this current German side. If we were to win against them, our lads would be in dreamland."

Nicholl, as passionate about Northern Ireland as ever, adds: "It is hard in international football to get a club spirit. At club level you can take players out, get them socialising or golfing to bring them together because you have them all the time.

"To get that bonding in international football is not easy and I think it's something that the players have to take a lot of credit for.

"Michael knows what he wants to do football-wise and they have to buy into the idea and when you are around the Northern Ireland squad you know it's like a club atmosphere.

"If you are player like Steven Davis at Southampton he will probably go and get the ball off the centre back but with Northern Ireland he has a different role. Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Craig Cathcart, like Steven, are playing the game at the highest level in England but they go about the international game exactly the way Michael wants because they trust in what he is doing.

"That shows discipline. And that is very important. When they go out on the pitch they are doing it with the intention of being very hard to beat. They all know their roles and they stick to them.

"Some players are left out for games, different systems are brought in but I don't see anyone moping about the place if they don't play. They want to be part of it and they know if they keep working hard and be positive they have every chance of doing that."

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