Michael O'Neill: What would Northern Ireland boss bring to Scotland?
Scotland’s pursuit of Michael O’Neill took a step forward on Thursday as the Scottish FA held “productive” talks with the Northern Ireland manager.
The 48-year-old has been the SFA’s number one target since Gordon Strachan’s exit, with a compensation package agreed with the Irish FA.
As both parties now reflect on their discussions, what sort of manager would Scotland be getting if they succeed?
What sort of squad would O’Neill take on, and would his style suit Scotland?
Former Celtic and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Pat Bonner, former Scotland assistant coach Peter Houston, and ex-Rangers, Dundee United and Hearts midfielder Iain Ferguson, tackled those questions and more on Thursday’s BBC Sportsound.
Q: Why would O’Neill swap Northern Ireland for Scotland?
Bonner: “If Scotland get him, I think he will be a decent appointment. He has had success with Northern Ireland, and been offered a lot of money to stay with them. But maybe he is thinking that some of those players are going to retire soon and he doesn’t have a lot coming through that he can mould into a winning team.
“Is he damaged by going for this [Scotland] job, if he stays with Northern Ireland? Is he damaged by even going to talk to someone else, if you are a Northern Ireland fan?
“He is a manager who has got everything in his current job; he has a handle not just on Northern Ireland’s senior team, but the youth teams as well. He has a chance to develop the game over there, which is something every manager wants – control.”
Q: What sort of squad would O’Neill have to work with?
Bonner: “I think the future is bright for Scotland. Centre-half is still a critical position – they don’t really have many – but I think there is potential there for any manager coming in.
“[Left-back] Andy Robertson was sensational for Liverpool against Manchester City last weekend. He is fitting into that team now, and will be in it as long as he keeps himself fit.
“Then you have young Kieran Tierney at Celtic, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor in midfield – these boys can be international players. There is Graeme Shinnie at Aberdeeen, John McGinn at Hibs, these are all players he can mould into a team.”
Q: Could he translate what he has done with NI to Scotland?
Ferguson: “If you look at Northern Ireland as a group of – some would say – limited players, he has shown what can be done. They have got a real team spirit and a manager who bonds them together.
“You can overcome a lot of things if you have that will to win and collective unit. Scottish fans turn up waiting for a team that will be bursting out of their skins to play for Scotland. Michael has nurtured that with Northern Ireland, and Scotland are in a similar boat.
“If he decided to take the job – and I would be quite happy if he did – hopefully he would nurture that same spirit and fervour.”
Q: Would the way O’Neill’s teams play suit Scotland?
Houston: “Northern Ireland and Scotland are two different nations. Michael has built his reputation on being so organised defensively, hitting teams on the counter-attack and maybe stealing a goal.
“Scottish fans like their teams to go and attack the opposition. We know the criticism [former Scotland manager] Craig Levein got for his 4-6-0 formation, that still gets talked about. As a nation we want to go and win games, rather than trying to stifle the opposition.”
Q: Is O’Neill good at dealing with top players?
Houston: “The higher you get in football, the bigger the egos. It is how you manage the egos [at international level], it is not so much about the formation of play.
“Of course you will set them up and demand hard work, but it is about getting the structure right and treating the senior players – and egos – in the right manner.
“Michael comes across very well. The likes of Jonny Evans, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis, Northern Ireland’s senior players, can’t speak highly enough of him. Players don’t do that if they don’t like you or don’t want to work for you.
“Michael has that dressing room in the palm of his hand. He has a good manner about him, and he also has a good football brain, which is most important.”
Q: How long would O’Neill have to bed his ideas in?
Bonner: “There is almost 14 months to prepare the team for the next European Championship qualifiers, which start next March (2019). That is brilliant for any manager coming in to get things going.
“The Nations League [starting in September 2018] takes friendlies out of it and if you get it wrong, you can change things around. It is a real opportunity for any manager coming into this job.”