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Gareth McAuley

Why Michael O'Neill should bite the bullet and give Ollie Norwood a call for Bosnia

Gareth McAuley


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SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Ollie Norwood of Sheffield United (R) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Watford FC at Bramall Lane on December 26, 2019 in Sheffield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Ollie Norwood of Sheffield United (R) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Watford FC at Bramall Lane on December 26, 2019 in Sheffield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

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SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Ollie Norwood of Sheffield United (R) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Watford FC at Bramall Lane on December 26, 2019 in Sheffield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

An ever-improving Ollie Norwood is consistently proving the doubters wrong in the Premier League this season.

With Sheffield United emerging as the surprise package in the top flight, Norwood (right) has taken his chance to display his range of talent on a huge stage and totally deserves all the plaudits that has received.

After coming so close to the Premier League with Fulham and Brighton, I'm so pleased he has a manager in Chris Wilder who has total faith in him, allows Ollie to play his natural game with his vast range of passing and as skipper, he leads by example.

Premier League football suits Ollie.

Some Northern Ireland fans may be surprised at how well he is doing as at times when he played in a green shirt, he was in the shadow of Steven Davis.

But as team-mates, we certainly didn't believe that. He had an important role to play and I believe he did it so well. I never understood the criticism that came his way.

However, he did frustrate Jonny Evans because he would come deep and get the ball when we would have preferred him to stay in position. He wanted to act as our 'quarterback', pinging balls all over the park, always looking for the 'Hollywood' pass.

But that wasn't our style of play and he quickly learnt if he wanted to stay in the team and have a positive impact, he needed to play the short passes, play with a high energy around the park and put in the dirty work with strong tackling and closing down.

The style may not have been how Ollie wanted to play the game but it was effective for us and we could never survive in a match if we allowed individuals to do their own thing. We were only successful if we all bought into the gameplan and played as a team.

At Sheffield United, he is allowed to play his way, dictate possession and be the 'quarterback' of the team.

It doesn't surprise me that he is one of the most accurate passers in the Premier League. Usually a player develops into an international side after improving at club level, but for Ollie, it was the other way round. He became a better player by playing alongside Davo and coming up against the star names from Germany and around Europe.

Northern Ireland international football was good to Ollie.

Therefore, I know Michael O'Neill is pre-occupied with Stoke City's relegation battle at the bottom of the Championship, but if he is to make one phone call regarding the Northern Ireland team, ahead of March's Euro play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina, then it should be to Ollie.

Just think of the boost a returning Ollie would have to our team, especially with the hard-working Corry Evans sidelined with his horrific facial injury.

Michael was annoyed when Ollie brought a premature end to his international career last August. But I'm convinced he would gladly welcome the Sheffield United ace back into the fold.

George Saville has been playing for us in midfield, but for me, he flatters to deceive and Ollie, with nearly a season of Premier League football under his belt, would enhance our team enormously playing alongside Steven Davis and Paddy McNair in midfield.

Ollie's reasons for retiring from the international team are personal and so I will not be divulging or commenting on them. However, I think there is certainly hope. It would be worth Michael making the call. What's the worst that can happen? He says 'no' and you get on as if you if never even asked the question. But if he says 'yes' and well, suddenly your midfield becomes a great deal stronger.

Northern Ireland would get a player who has the experience of playing in a major finals and believe me, that is crucial in knock-out football. As we found out in the World Cup play-off against Switzerland three years ago, the pressure and demands are immense. Ollie would be able to bring composure, get on the ball and help us control the game. In big games, it's vital you have players who are comfortable on the ball, can play at any tempo, have a range of passing and aren't afraid to make the required tackles.

It wouldn't be a permanent situation, just a short-term solution to a problem we are currently facing.

If we lose to Bosnia, he can go straight back into international retirement or if we win and then defeat either Slovakia or the Republic to reach the Euros, he could be given the honour of bringing the curtain down properly on his international career at a major finals.

I would certainly encourage Ollie to take the plunge.

Make the call, Michael.

At Sheffield United, he is allowed to play his way, dictate possession and be the team's 'quarterback'

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