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I can help Stoke realise their potential and regain place in top flight, maintains O'Neill

 

New test: Michael O’Neill is relishing a fresh challenge
New test: Michael O’Neill is relishing a fresh challenge
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

During his eight-year reign as Northern Ireland manager, Michael O'Neill always warned that he would only step into club management for the right offer at the right time.

When he was linked with the Leicester job after Claudio Ranieri's dismissal in 2017, O'Neill explained at length the perils of putting your job security in the hands of club owners.

Given his level-headed consideration of any potential move, current events beg the questions; why Stoke and why now?

After his unveiling as the Potters' new boss yesterday, O'Neill revealed his desire to manage in England's top flight and explained why a shift to the bet365 Stadium makes sense with that ultimate goal in mind.

"In this day and age, as a British coach, you have to manage your team into the Premier League and this is a club that I think has the potential to go back to that level," he said.

"While the club is not in its strongest position at the moment, it previously spent 10 years in the Premier League. Everything's here to build a top-class football club and we have to get everyone aligned to that, thinking in the same way.

"I'm delighted to get what is a great opportunity. For me, the ownership is important - the stability that John and Peter Coates (chairman and vice-chairman) give to the club, you know the people you're working for.

"The whole package as well; the passion that the supporters have, the quality of the playing squad - there are a lot of good players - and hopefully it's just a case of steering things in the right direction."

O'Neill also whetted his new fans' appetites with the prediction that, in the long-term, they can expect a 'high-intensity' style without the ball as well as a team that looks to dominate possession.

It's a vision that matches up with his new Northern Ireland team, which has embodied both of those characteristics throughout the current Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

However, also linking seamlessly with O'Neill's experiences at Windsor Park is his warning that such enthralling performances require plenty of time and even greater patience.

His opening spell as Northern Ireland manager yielded just one win in 18 matches before the triumphant Euro 2016 campaign got under way and O'Neill's vision could finally be realised.

"The priority is to get points on the board first of all and we'll do that by whatever means necessary," he said before taking charge of his first game at Barnsley today. "There is a level of urgency because you must address these situations and the slide as early as possible.

"Over time then, we'll develop a style for the team, find the players that fit that style and players who are capable of playing for a club of this stature.

"I do think there is an expectation here which is good. Players have to meet that and we want to put that into the chemistry of the individuals.

"It's clearly a family club and it's important where we create something that's a good place for people to work. There's a lot of man management involved in that but the players have a responsibility to create that atmosphere as well. We have a good group of lads but we have to put confidence into them.

"It's about building that togetherness in the squad. It's very big and sometimes that can be that bit more difficult but players are disappointed when they don't play. We have to maximise the talent that we have.

"If we do that, the club can only go in one direction."

There's a huge chance to begin that project this afternoon with the visit to Barnsley, who sit just one place and one point ahead of the Potters.

"I could come and let the backroom staff who are currently in place take the game as they did on Monday night but I think it's too important a game to do that," he said after taking training yesterday and preparing to be in the dugout at Oakwell.

"So with their help and with a very limited period of time we got some ideas across to the players about how we intend to play. We looked at a couple of options. It's a case of harnessing that and building a team, building a structure and getting the maximum out of their talent."

If O'Neill can manage to do that as well as he has done with Northern Ireland, then few would be surprised to see the Potters back in the top flight.

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