Michael O'Neill tipping Jonny Evans as management material
MICHAEL O’Neill has identified Jonny Evans as the Northern Ireland player most suited to management, and he believes the “grounded” attitude of his compatriots is behind their success at home and in Scotland.
O’Neill insists 29-year-old West Brom defender Evans has all the attributes to hold the reins somewhere himself one day, though he appreciates why many of today’s players are seeking alternative careers upon retirement.
His message to those contemplating becoming a boss is that the industry’s demanding nature is what should make it so appealing to those still hoping to scratch their competitive itch.
“Jonny’s very bright, very intelligent, he knows the game and has strong opinions on the game,” O’Neill said.
“Jonny certainly has all the attributes that you would look for in a manager and he’s got good qualities as a human being as well as a football coach.
“Within the squad, they all have capabilities and know the game. We have a lot of people who have a lot of good human qualities that I think would make them a good manager.
“But you just never know with players. Everyone comes at different times and has a different career path. The biggest thing now is, ‘Are you prepared to do the work? Are you prepared to go and start somewhere and work your way into it?’.
“The modern-day player may not just have that desire. You’ve so many opportunities outside the game. We’re seeing people who were perceived as if they were going to be top managers actually settle for being pundits.
“If you have the playing career that some of those guys had I think that’s fully understandable. I had to go and start at Brechin City while I was working in financial services – that was what was open to me.
“You do it, work as hard as you can, and hopefully have success. It’s where lads get the opportunity and whether they’re prepared to take it and stick at it.
“It’s a very challenging career but that’s what makes it enjoyable. It’s very difficult to find something after your playing career that will give you that level of focus and that level of challenge, and certainly management does that.”
That was the message O’Neill will have relayed to his country’s record scorer David Healy when he was offered his maiden managerial gig with Belfast club Linfield in 2015. Healy’s Blues had not won the Irish League or Irish Cup since 2012, yet he lifted both in his first full season last term and was one of a number of Northern Irish managerial success stories.
After O’Neill himself led his country to the last 16 at the Euros, Brendan Rodgers claimed three trophies during an unbeaten domestic season with Celtic, Neil Lennon guided Hibernian to the Scottish Championship title and Tommy Wright once again secured European football for St Johnstone.
“They’re all very grounded, which is a big thing,” O’Neill added. “I think their players see that in them as well which means their players want to play for them, which is key.
“David (Healy) did a bit of scouting for us and I think he found he was at that point where maybe after playing you’re not sure about coaching, and I’m sure he was a little bit undecided.
“He phoned me when the Linfield job came up and I told him to take it. I felt at that stage it was what he needed. He’s done brilliantly. David has a very, very bright future as a manager, I’ve no doubts about that.
“I wouldn’t have said David would have naturally been a manager (when he was playing). Sometimes players don’t really realise it until they can’t play and maybe David came into that category.
“There’s others thinking about being a manager when they’re 23, 24, and you’re saying, ‘Just concentrate on playing’.
“David was one that maybe didn’t have that grand plan, but when the opportunity was presented to him it was the right timing for him in his life and it gave him a bit of direction after playing as well.”
The obvious question for Healy, still only 37, is whether he will at some point be lured across the water, where he enjoyed an extensive playing career with the likes of Preston, Leeds and Rangers.
“He wants to progress,” O’Neill admitted.
“He’ll be limited in terms of the domestic game here, it is not going to offer him a huge amount of progression.
“He can only go so far, I know that from my time in the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers. There’s a time to leave.”
GROUP C FIXTURES
Saturday, June 10
Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland (5pm)
Germany v San Marino (7.45pm)
Norway v Czech Republic (7.45pm)