Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Gareth McAuley: Michael O'Neill is walking into Stoke double trouble

Michael O’Neill has been appointed Stoke boss (Liam McBurney/PA)
Michael O’Neill has been appointed Stoke boss (Liam McBurney/PA)
Gareth McAuley

By Gareth McAuley

Michael O'Neill is a perfect fit for Stoke City.

He possesses all the qualities and attributes needed to turn the struggling club around.

Having watched them recently against West Brom, Stoke have a squad packed full of talent but they are missing structure, direction and belief.

Michael, having worked with him for the last eight years, can instil all of that and much more.

It's not a gamble by the Stoke hierarchy. They will have done their homework on Michael and understand how he can reinvigorate their squad of players.

But in my view, it is unwise for Michael to combine the Stoke City job with the Northern Ireland position.

Stoke have allowed him to take charge of Northern Ireland next week against the Netherlands and Germany in their final Euro qualifying games followed by next March's play-offs.

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However, I think he is leaving himself open to criticism from the Stoke fans and questions about his commitment. If Stoke supporters don't believe Michael is 100% committed, they were certainly let him know.

They will be relentless.

Stoke will be in a battle to remain in the Championship, fighting for their lives and they will need all of Michael's focus and dedication. Even now, as we enter the international break, this could have been a period when Michael spent time on the training ground with the players, starting to get his message, system and ideas across.

Apart from James McClean, I don't think Stoke have too many players away on international duty, therefore an ideal opportunity, with limited time between games coming up, to get his squad to buy into his playing style and what he expects as a manager.

He obviously feels he has unfinished business with Northern Ireland, but I think a clean break would have been in order.

Michael excels as a manager due to being organised, his attention to detail and excellent preparation, yet this could suffer if he is concentrating on two jobs.

I really hope not - he has transformed Northern Ireland's fortunes over the last eight years, not just on the pitch, and I'm so pleased he has been given this opportunity.

He gives the players great confidence. We are always well prepared and the incredible information he has given us over the years has allowed the players in the squad to continually punch above our weight on the international stage.

There are no grey areas with Michael, he is a great communicator and makes you believe in every aspect of his plan.

He travels the length of the country to stay in touch with his players, even just to have a quiet cup of coffee.

Michael just didn't manage the senior team, he took a major interest in all the under-age sides, the coaches, Club NI, the McDonald's grassroots programme and played a huge role in the infrastructure of the IFA.

I know some people in England may be sceptical of Michael because he's never managed over here.

But how do you get experience if you are never given that opportunity?

Michael, with Northern Ireland, was much more than an international manager. He lived and breathed it every day of the week and this will stand him in good stead in club management.

Stoke are a team crying out for Michael's expertise.

I expect him to bring stability to the club, wheel and deal in the January transfer market and move the club away from danger in the Championship.

If he doesn't, you can be sure the Stoke fans will point to the fact he is still associated with Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph


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