Belfast Telegraph

It seems utterly bizarre that Michael O'Neill isn't considered for tops jobs in England, writes Paul Ferguson

Only ineptitude is denying Northern Ireland boss chance to fulfill ambition.

By Paul Ferguson

What does Michael O’Neill need to do in order to land a decent club job in England?

It’s a question that seriously needs to be addressed.

Northern Ireland fans, players and Irish FA chiefs will rejoice at the fact that, in recent months and even days, he has been completely overlooked for positions in England and therefore still in charge of the international team for the World Cup qualifiers.

But it seems completely and utterly bizarre that a manager who has achieved so much with Northern Ireland, dragging them from rock bottom to a major finals in the space of four years and winning a host of accolades, including the prestigious BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year award, shouldn’t even be considered for jobs in the English Championship.

O’Neill has aspirations of managing in the Premier League and the Southampton job during the summer looked really inviting but it appears he will need to bring a side up from the Championship to achieve that dream. All he needs is a break.

During the international break just past, three jobs in the Championship became available — Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Derby County. When the contenders came out for each position, O’Neill’s name was conspicuous by its absence.

On the Monday evening of Roberto Di Matteo’s departure from Aston Villa, respected BBC Five Live reporter for the Midlands area, Pat Murphy, was going through those in the frame to take the helm at Villa Park. Ten managers were mentioned — O’Neill’s name wasn’t even in the conversation.

Even if O’Neill’s agent did make contact with Villa, he would have been told his client wasn’t being considered as their focus was on no.1 target, Steve Bruce.

Maybe a lack of interest in 46-year-old O’Neill is just pure and utter ignorance.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have much club experience having only managed Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland and Brechin City at club level before landing the international job.

Maybe it’s because, unlike the Wales boss Chris Coleman, he has never managed world class players such as Gareth Bale or Gareth Ramsay. But the fact is, a club’s ineptitude is denying a hugely talented manager the chance to fulfil an ambition.

O’Neill’s salary, which is currently half a million a year, is unlikely to be a sticking point, but there of course is a compensation package that would need to be agreed with the Irish FA, should a club desire his services, and at the minute it stands at £750,000. However, it is my understanding that the Irish FA would be willing to negotiate a lesser amount if it allowed O’Neill a wonderful opportunity to manage in England.

The former Newcastle United and Hibernian midfielder is only too aware that, with the likes of Gareth McAuley coming 37 in December, first team football will be an issue for many of his players and with a lack of quality replacements coming through, he needs to strike while the iron is hot and his stock is high.

He has taken Northern Ireland to a level the Green and White Army could and would never have dreamed off.

O’Neill is the complete manager and enjoys the control aspect of the job — just ask his players, backroom staff and those in the Irish FA who will confess that his level of detail is incredible, from the charter flight for the international players on away trips right down to the grassroots level of the game. It is O’Neill who still visits parents trying to persuade them that their son should play for Northern Ireland.

While guiding Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals and knock-out stages was rich reward for his incredible hard work and endeavour, he is still masterminding impressive results in these World Cup qualifiers and with a mixed bag in terms of players at his disposal.

Northern Ireland maybe didn’t play well during the first game out in Prague but they still managed to come away with a point and then score four goals past a stubborn and resistant San Marino side.

On each occasion O’Neill, with little resources to choose from, set his team out to do a job and even in defeat on Tuesday night in Hannover, the men in green came out of the match with a great deal of credit.

There was disappointment at the loss of the two early goals, especially the second one which could have been defended better, but overall, it was a huge improvement on the game in Paris last June and Northern Ireland frustrated the Germans by defending deep and especially during the first half unsettled them with Josh Magennis the battering ram and lively Jamie Ward (right) continually running at them.

He wasn’t afraid to throw Lee Hodson into the mix, despite the 25-year-old having only played for his new club Rangers in League Cup competition. But he’d done his homework on Hodson, Aaron Hughes and Corry Evans and knew the players he brought in wouldn’t let him down — which they most certainly didn’t. Just as he had done last year keeping faith with Michael McGovern in goals and Fleetwood Town’s Conor McLaughlin at right-back.

It’s only when you look at the two teams on paper that you see what should be a monumental gulf between the World champions and little Northern Ireland. Germany played a side containing five Bayern Munich players, one from Real Madrid, one from Juventus and of course Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Northern Ireland had three players from the Premier League on the pitch while the best player in the first half is out on loan at Burton Albion.

O’Neill is already preparing diligently for the final qualifier of 2016 against Azerbaijan next month at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans will hope he is still in charge, not only because of his talent as manager, but because the alternatives don’t look all that appealing.

At the moment, Northern Ireland’s gain is most certainly the loss of those Championship and Premier League clubs in England desperately wanting a manager to rejuvenate their fortunes.

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