FORMER England manager Graham Taylor believes Michael O’Neill has been thrown in at the deep end of international management.
The ex-Watford and Aston Villa boss admits managing your country could not be more different from the comforts of being a club gaffer.
Moreover, Taylor believes O’Neill, who is now charged with turning Northern Ireland’s fortunes around, has a particularly difficult task.
“International management seems so straightforward but it can have a real effect on you,” Taylor, who was in Belfast to speak at the launch of a new partnership between the Irish FA and training aid supplier Precision, said.
“I had 60 games a season as a club manager and 10 internationals, but while you could lose 10 of those 60, losing one of those 10 would have been a disaster.
“You got a bit of lee-way with friendlies, as Michael has probably discovered, but for the most part you’re expected to get as good a return with an international team as with a club and, given you’ve so little preparation time, that’s asking for a lot.
“I had my own staff around me at a club but it took three months after taking over from Bobby Robson for Lawrie McMenamy to come on as my assistant.
“You’re on your own for so much of the time and I know Michael will be feeling that. He also has dozens of different things to concentrate on, more than you would perhaps under the FA.”
Taylor added that the composition of Northern Ireland’s squad includes players who are being exposed to a range of different philosophies at their respective clubs.
“You have lads playing in Scotland, Roy Carroll of course in Greece and others in England, not to mention at a range of different levels.
“He has to make sure the players are going to get on and operate as a team from the word ‘go’. There’s every chance they could have been kicking lumps out of one another for opposing club sides just days before.
“The international break has stopped that in the Premier League, but Northern Ireland have players at levels where that hasn’t been enforced. And amazingly enough, if you’ve been on the wrong end of a hammering and an opposition player’s now rooming with you, you probably won’t forget straightaway.
“Michael will have a lot to deal with in terms of managers too – you have to recognise that at international level, you don’t manage your own players. Someone else has that job.
“When I managed at club level in the old first division, there were 21 other managers there and not all of them were your friends.
“Taking charge of England meant you knew you’d probably have run-ins and difficulties with those who weren’t easy to work alongside at clubs. Now you had to convince them to release their own players for you, for the country.
“I wouldn’t have fallen out with anyone over it, it’s human nature - not everyone is going to work with you and ever international boss, Michael included, will see that.”
Taylor’s admiration of Northern Ireland’s homegrown management talent is apparent, despite his words of warning for the young O’Neill.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers earned his stripes at Watford when Taylor was the club’s chairman and Rodgers’ unique style earned the ex Lincoln City full back’s respect – even if it didn’t bear fruit.
“Brendan had a certain philosophy – he wanted players to play football. It didn’t work at Watford because he didn’t have the players who were good enough and then when Reading came in for him, the same thing happened.
“I always admired him. I thought he had style, but I suggest he wasn’t successful because he was trying to impose a system where players were not good enough to see it through and carry it out.
“At Liverpool, I think he’s been a bit unfortunate. But he does have the quality there and the owners will continue to give him the time he needs and deserves.
“They’ve moved on from Kenny [Dalglish] and I can’t see them not supporting this young and quite dynamic guy they have in Brendan.
“The one thing I would say is I think he’s been given a hard time over the [Andy] Carroll situation. It had been taken out of his hands and he will want to make sure he has total control over things.”