I have a lot of admiration for Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill. His team narrowly missed out on a spot at next year’s World Cup after suffering a 1-0 aggregate defeat against Switzerland in the play-offs.
To say the defeat was harsh would be an understatement. A terrible decision cost O’Neill and his team any chance of making it to Russia 2018. They just could not quite manage a goal in Sunday night’s second leg in Basel to take the tie to extra-time.
It was a sad end to such a good qualification campaign for O’Neill and his team. There is now speculation that O’Neill may return to club management following the disappointment.
Not thinking about his future
O’Neill’s stock is very high, but he has admitted that he has not really thought about his future. When asked about his immediate future, he told Sky Sports: “I’m not giving it any thought. I don’t think it’s a reasonable question to ask me to be fair. My focus is with the players in the dressing room,”
However, maybe in a couple of days’ time when the dust has settled the highly rated boss will start to think about what his future holds. He will be sure that there will be a queue of clubs ready to make him an offer.
I am sure if the right offer came along O’Neill would have to consider it, just as most bosses would.
Would not get the time at club level
Michael O’Neill has done a wonderful job as Northern Ireland boss. On paper, his team should be nowhere near qualifying for the World Cup. However, O’Neill’s shrewd management has meant his team have overachieved for much of his reign.
O’Neill has already enjoyed a hugely successful spell in club management at League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers. A return to club management may well interest the 48-year-old, while he is now 7/4 favourite to be the next Scotland boss.
International football and club football are very different beasts. In club football, fans demand instant success. However, O’Neill has been given time to build a team and an ethos within the Northern Ireland camp.
His team have slowly improved and got stronger during his reign. Qualification for Euro 2016 and making it to the knockout stages was an immense achievement for O’Neill and the team.
If he took the Scotland job, he would likely to given more time than if he were to take a club managers job. The career of a Premier League boss is especially short-lived, so he would have to factor that into his thinking about his next move.
The right time to move into club management
Michael O’Neill will no doubt fancy another crack at club football. He cannot stay as Northern Ireland boss forever and he may feel he has taken the team as far as he can. His six-year stint as the country’s national team boss has been undoubtedly successful.
O’Neill’s spell at Shamrock proved that he could do it in club management. He took Rovers to their first Irish title in 16 years and into the Europa League group stages, something never achieved by an Irish club.
From a neutral’s point of view, it would be great if a Premier League club gave him a chance. The same old faces seem to be recycled at Premier League clubs.
However, sometimes, good manager’s careers are ruined by making poor choices when it comes to selecting their jobs. For me, Michael O’Neill’s work with Northern Ireland confirms his managerial acumen.
I have no doubt that O’Neill could manage a Premier League or Championship team. I also have no doubts that he would bring success to a team in either of England’s top tiers.
What I would worry about with O’Neill is if he does move into club football and cannot produce instant results. That would then tarnish his hard-earned reputation and his career may never recover, which would be hugely unfair to the talented boss.
Will Michael O’Neill move back into club football in the near future?
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