NI boss Michael O'Neill encourages younger players to move abroad

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) speaks with teenage midfielder Isaac Price during a training session in San Marino. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) speaks with teenage midfielder Isaac Price during a training session in San Marino. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

ENGLAND may be the venue for two forthcoming training camps for the Northern Ireland men's international squad but boss Michael O'Neill wants up-and-coming players to look further afield.

Recent call-up Cameron McGeehan, who's 28, is already with Oostende and he seems set to be joined in Belgium by teenager Isaac Price, who has reportedly decided to leave Everton for Standard Liege.

Donegal native Fergal Harkin and former Celtic manager Ronny Deila are there and O'Neill reckons others should follow 19-year-old Price to the continent:

"I would love our younger players to look beyond England. I just think that other nations do it better – but you need that opportunity.

"Maybe when clubs in those leagues are looking at players they're not really looking at Northern Ireland. We've seen it a bit more with kids from the Republic of Ireland because of the rules around Brexit – we've seen younger kids [from the south] go to Inter Milan and different clubs.

"It would be brilliant for our younger players to go abroad at an earlier age, but that isn't an easy thing for a younger player to do.

"That pathway potentially back into English football is a very good route to come…although if you go ahead and play you might play your whole career abroad, which would be an amazing experience.2

O'Neill himself could have abroad when he left Hibs in 1996, as he recalls: "When I look back on my playing career I wish I'd gone abroad. I had a chance to Sturm Graz in Austria and a team in Switzerland, when the Bosman ruling had just started, but I didn't take it. I went to the Premier League with Coventry.

"It's hard to turn that situation down. I know that Aaron [Hughes] and Andy Waterworth with the Academy have looked at opportunities to present to players [to go abroad]."

Price's fellow teenage midfielder Shea Charles could also be on the move, having earlier admitted that he might go on loan for next season.

O'Neill acknowledged that Charles would find it hard to break into the team of the three-in-a-row English champions, who have Rodri and Kalvin Phillips in his defensive midfield role already:

"I don't really speak too much to them about that because their club knows. Whatever Manchester City decide to do with Shea, they'll know exactly. If they decide to sell him it would be foolhardy of him to turn and say 'Well, I'm staying' because that decision would be made.

"The fact that he is around the first team on a regular basis, let's be honest, best club side in the world – the challenge to get into that team is incredible.

"The great thing for young players at a club like Manchester City, if there is an exit it's always a very attractive exit for them. I don't really know what the plans for Shea are at Man City but I do know that whatever it is it'll be the right option for him.

"With Isaac it's a different situation. There was the change of manager, from Frank Lampard to Sean Dyche, and he maybe didn't feel he was as close to the first team as he felt previously.

"He was in a contractual situation where despite Everton wanting to keep him, he wanted to go down a different route, the one that a number of young English players have taken, where they've gone abroad.

"Because of his mentality, his attitude to the game, I think he's going to do well wherever he goes. Both players have impressed me immensely."