Football/Soccer

Michael O'Neill still main man for Northern Ireland: Jonny Evans

Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn, Conor McLaughlin, and Jonny Evans with a supporter at the launch of the new home jersey at Windsor Park.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

MICHAEL O’Neill should remain the sole man in charge of Northern Ireland rather than working in tandem with his successor, believes Jonny Evans.

Suggestions of the eventual replacement for the new Stoke City boss teaming up with O’Neill before he leaves the international scene were played down by the experienced defender:

“I don’t think that’s really… I don’t know. That would have to be an issue between Michael and the guy coming in.

“As far as I’m aware, I could be totally wrong, Michael is going to be in charge for the rest of the campaign. It’s as simple as that, I don’t think there are any sort of complications to it.

“Say we don’t qualify, or we do qualify and he takes us there, once the tournament’s over that will be the time he ‘ll step aside.

“He’s here for the two games [at home to the Netherlands and away to Germany] and then for any play-off, I think he’s going to be there to the end.”

The 31-year-old admitted the fact that O’Neill didn’t leave the NI role immediately softened the blow somewhat:

“I for one texted him on the Friday and said ‘Good luck’ – obviously when I heard the news that he was able to carry on with us it made that text a little bit easier!

“We’re all pleased for him, I think everyone in Northern Ireland is – what he’s done for us as player, a team, a country, it’s fantastic.

“That move to club level in England is probably something he has always had in the back of his mind. When the right opportunity came we all knew that it was one he couldn’t turn down.”

Evans is confident that O’Neill’s attention to detail will ensure he does well at Stoke: “He’s a very, very hard worker. There are so many things he does behind the scenes that people don’t see. People have this image of international managers that they’re only really working 10 days then they have another couple of months free…

“Michael has really involved himself in the whole organisation. He’s having conversations with us at times which surprise us due to the depth that he’s looking into things, how he’s looking to improve everything as a whole.”

Currently flying high in the English Premier League with Leicester City, Evans insists he isn’t worried about a post-Michael future with Northern Ireland:

“No, I think whenever something like this happens it gives a chance for another coach to come in and that’s something as players that we’ll all be open to.

“We’ve been fortunate to have Michael for such a long time. When you look at the Germans and their manager’s continuity it just shows that if you keep that continuity it can create a really good vibe within the squad and that’s what we’ve been able to do. Hopefully the next manager that they bring in can be there for a long time also.”

Indeed, he feels that O’Neill’s replacement will continue the good work that has been carried out over the past eight years: “Standards in football have been raised throughout the years, there are things now which didn’t happen years ago, like sports science and things that everyone is looking into.

“Michael showed us the way, that if we concentrate on all those little things it can really make a big difference to us and that’s something that we’ll definitely be trying to carry on”.

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Football/Soccer