Former Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley has given his thoughts on Michael O’Neill’s recent appointment as manager of Championship side Stoke City.
After the sacking of Nathan Jones at the Bet365 stadium on 1st November – Stoke looked to immediately appoint a new manager with their standing in the Championship as low as rock bottom and they agreed a deal to bring in O’Neill last week.
O’Neill has been head coach of Northern Ireland since 2011, having had previous spells at club level with Scottish club Brechin City and Irish side Shamrock Rovers.
The 50-year-old took charge of his first game against Barnsley on Saturday, securing a 4-2 win which saw the club move off bottom place into 23rd.
The victory was Stoke’s third of the season and they will be hoping to make that four when they return to action following the international break with a fixture against Wigan Athletic on 23rd November.
Whilst O’Neill has already begun to instil his coaching style and ideas in at Stoke – the Northern Irish coach will also remain in charge of his native country, overseeing their upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Netherlands and Germany.
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Northern Ireland sit third in Group C, three points off Netherlands and Germany and a play-off place could be likely, meaning O’Neill will take charge of those and further on to the Championship itself next summer.
Gareth McAuley, who made 80 international appearances for his country, has given his opinion on O’Neill’s double role, claiming that the tactician would be better focusing on one role.
“I think he is leaving himself open to criticism from the Stoke fans and questions about his commitment,” he wrote in his column for the Belfast Telegraph.
“If Stoke supporters don’t believe Michael is 100% commitment, they will certainly let him know.
“They will be relentless. Stoke will be in a battle to remain in the Championship, fighting for their lives and they will need all of Michael’s focus and dedication.
“Even now, as we enter the international break, this could have been a period when Michael spent time on the training ground with the players, starting to get his message, system and ideas across.”
Agreeing with McAuley would be easy but it must be said that not many managers have juggled two high profile roles like this before. Stoke are in desperate need of someone who has 100% dedication and O’Neill must not allow his loyalty to Northern Ireland to get in the way.
Will Northern Ireland qualify for the Euro’s next summer? We will have to wait and see but this international break could and should have been a great time for O’Neill and the Stoke players to work together and develop an understanding.