Michael O’Neill has insisted he will have no problem juggling his new role as Stoke boss with his position as Northern Ireland manager between now and the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs in March.
An agreement between the Potters and the Irish FA allows O’Neill to remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the fixtures next spring – their last chance of reaching Euro 2020 after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Holland closed the door on automatic qualification.
On Friday, O’Neill refused to say definitively he would still be at the helm of the national team as he adjusts to the demands of the Championship, but speaking after the game he was adamant selecting a squad and scouting the opposition – who will be named in Friday’s draw – would not pose a problem.
“It’s dead easy,” he said. “We’re going to turn up on a Sunday and play on a Thursday. I can pick my squad now. I could name it tomorrow. There are not 40 players out there we’re not picking.
“I’ll be able to (prepare for the opposition). That’s not a problem. Our opponents don’t play between now and then, they’ve already played. We’re not going to watch individual players play for their clubs, so the work we have on the opponents, we’ll have that well in advance.”
O’Neill had previously suggested “common sense will prevail” regarding his situation and they would find the “right resolution for everyone”, comments taken as meaning he may find the demands on his time too much.
But that was not the position he took after Saturday’s draw – a game Northern Ireland might have won but for a missed penalty from captain Steven Davis in the first half.
“In this job, I could watch 40 games or two games and 99 per cent of the time, my squad will be pretty much the same, so people are making a lot out of this situation, which doesn’t exist,” he said.
“To be honest, there’s nobody better than me to judge this because I actually do the job and the reality of the situation is to put a coach in with a play-off situation with three days’ preparation wouldn’t be fair to the players or the association because of what’s at stake.
“And it wouldn’t be fair to the coach to go and prepare.
“We know our team, we know our best team. We have one or two players to come back in – Conor Washington and Jordan Jones – but the squad picks itself other than that.”
Either way, virtually every play-off permutation has Northern Ireland playing away, making Saturday almost certainly O’Neill’s Windsor Park farewell with Tuesday’s final Group C fixture away to Germany in Frankfurt.
He will end his tenure having taken charge of 32 games at the National Stadium, winning 17, drawing six and losing nine, a record he is proud of.
“I think this stadium used to be a place where at times (our own) players and fans dreaded coming, and performances showed that,” he said.
“Now we have a great atmosphere here, the redevelopment of the stadium has been a big factor in that but what we also have is a group of players who love playing here and a really strong bond between the supporters and the players.
“It’s really important we hold on to that going forward, regardless of who’s in charge of the team.”
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