FOOTBALL: Nortnern Ireland players want Michael O’Neill to stay on as manager

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill with Jonny Evans
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill with Jonny Evans

Northern Ireland’s players would understand if manager Michael O’Neill left for an irresistible opportunity elsewhere, according to Jonny Evans.

O’Neill’s squad bade farewell to each other in Switzerland yesterday, going their separate ways and returning to club duty after missing out on next summer’s World Cup following a devastating play-off defeat.

There is a sense it could have been more of a permanent adieu from O’Neill, who intriguingly spoke of their performance in Basel being the high point of his near six-year tenure, and of the need to console his players rather than discuss his future.

The 48-year-old is unlikely to be short of options if it is the end of the road with Northern Ireland as he is among the favourites for the vacancies with Scotland, the United States, Rangers and Sunderland.

While it would be a wrench to lose the man who so nearly guided Northern Ireland to successive major tournaments after three decades in the international wilderness, defender Evans insists the team would accept O’Neill moving if an appealing offer was forthcoming.

“As a manager, he’s unbelievable, we all love him and every single player plays for him,” West Brom’s Evans said.

“He’s such a good manager and it would be a shame to lose him. But we know on the other side, management is such a difficult job and if something came up, where it would be difficult to turn down, no-one would ever begrudge him that.”

Asked if he could appreciate why countries and clubs alike would be interested in hiring O’Neill, Evans added: “Yes, definitely.”