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Dublin: 12°C Monday 14 June 2021

5 qualities that Martin O’Neill will bring to the Ireland job

The Derry native’s considerable familiarity with European football is likely to benefit the Irish side.

Martin O'Neill is on the verge of being confirmed as the new Ireland manager.
Martin O'Neill is on the verge of being confirmed as the new Ireland manager.

1. Passion

Some may baulk at the idea that an excitable manager is any way beneficial with the cool, cerebral Arsene Wenger-esque approach more in vogue these days (though Wenger, it must be said, is not immune from exhibitions of overt emotion). Yet enthusiasm genuinely can influence players. And it’s hard to claim that the 74-year-old Trapattoni was regularly overly excited, as his passion for the game had arguably waned by the time he took over as Ireland boss — hence, his ostensible reluctance to attend Premier League matches.

It would be a surprise, however, if O’Neill refrained from engaging in his customary tendency to habitually jump up and down on the sidelines during moments of tension. Therefore, hopefully, from an Ireland supporter’s perspective, this passion will be translated to on-field displays, in contrast with the invariably lifeless and anaemic performances that characterised much of the Trapattoni era.

2. European experience

More so than any of the other genuine candidates for the Ireland job, this virtue separated O’Neill from the crowd. While his successive failures with Celtic in away games is a slight concern, his ability to mastermind wins over Barcelona, Lyon and Liverpool among others shows how effective a manager he can be on the European stage.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of one style of play that O’Neill would not have come up against during his time as Celtic boss, which is why his comprehensive knowledge of football abroad will surely be an asset to the Irish team.

3. Ability to get the best out of players

image(Shane Long often failed to show his best form under Trapattoni — INPHO/James Crombie)

One of the key strengths of O’Neill as a manager has been his propensity to take struggling players and improbably infuse them with confidence, consequently helping them achieve career-best form — exactly the type of manager Ireland seemingly need, essentially. Whereas Trap appeared to frequently exacerbate his players’ already-tenuous confidence by belittling them in pre-match press conferences (ridiculing Shane Long, to cite one example of many), refusing to play them irrespective of form (Darron Gibson) and lamenting the lack of talent at his disposal, O’Neill is renowned for always accentuating his side’s positive aspects — a philosophy that subsequently often shines through in his teams’ performances.

At Celtic, he took Premier League outcasts such as Chris Sutton, John Hartson and Alan Thompson, and turned them into invaluable team members for the Scottish side. Similarly, at Leicester, he got the very best out of unremarkable players like Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet, while at Villa, he ensured Ashley Young and James Milner achieved the potential they had shown as youngsters. Ireland fans, in turn, will hope he can work similar wonders with Shane Long and Aiden McGeady, among others.

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4. Communication skills

This quality may seem like a basic requirement for any manager in such a high-profile position, yet as was evident with Trapattoni, it is unfortunately not necessarily the case. And even some of the other candidates for the Ireland job — most notably Roy Keane — would have faced questions over the manner in which they would handle and communicate with players.

Unlike Trap, O’Neill is unlikely to fall out with various individuals or rely, primarily, on text messaging, even in such sensitive matters as dropping long-term players from the squad (see: Kevin Doyle). Indeed, the Northern Irishman is widely admired throughout the game, owing to his personable nature. He has frequently appeared as a pundit for both BBC and ITV over the years, and has always come across as intelligent, fair-minded and articulate. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine many issues arising, or players being banished from the squad, with the 61-year-old at the helm.

5. Sound judgement with his team selections

One of the most alienating aspects of Trapattoni’s regime was his relentless refusal to put what many considered to be the best XI on the field at any one moment, opting at times for Championship players (Stephen Ward) over Premier League starters (Marc Wilson) and appearing to hold an inveterate mistrust of creative players who preferred to operate centrally (Andy Reid, Wes Hoolahan). It is difficult to see O’Neill abiding by such eccentric selection policies, which surely means Conor Sammon will no longer be indulged, while Anthony Stokes may continue to get a look in.

Then again, every Ireland manager in recent memory has come under fire for his team selection at one stage or another, so it would be naïve to expect O’Neill to be the quintessential crowd pleaser. Nonetheless, while people may not always agree with his choice of first XI, a degree of logic (which Trapattoni often failed to show) in picking the side is hardly too much to ask, and there are few indications from his past that O’Neill will be significantly controversial in this regard.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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