The Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill would be a good choice as Southampton’s next manager and has the tactical ability and man-management skills to lead a Premier League side, his captain Steven Davis has insisted.
O’Neill’s stock has risen hugely after the campaign which saw Northern Ireland exit after looking superior to Wales for most of Saturday’s round of 16 game and the Football Association of Ireland have accepted that they may not be able to hold off interest from English sides.
Southampton’s Davis, who played a commanding role at Parc des Princes on Saturday and looked as good as any No 10 whom England have fielded in the tournament, said “stranger things have happened” than O’Neill being appointed successor to Ronald Koeman on the south coast. He said it was wrong to assume the Premier League was too big a challenge for the 46-year-old.
“I think for me as a player or a manager everybody needs an opportunity,” Davis said. “You see our lads playing on this stage here and they are playing lower leagues but they’ve shown they are more than capable of getting to this standard. You need a chance to do that and I think that’s the same for a manager. It’s just somebody having the belief in Michael to give him the opportunity and I’m sure he wouldn’t let anyone down.”
O’Neill does feature in the odds for the position, as a sixth favourite with some bookmakers, though the ex-Nice, Lyon and Lille manager Claude Puel is seen as clear favourite and could be appointed this week, with Frank de Boer, who has departed Ajax, also seen ahead of O’Neill to replace Koeman, who has moved to Everton.
Davis said he accepted that O’Neill may go after a four-year tenure which has revived Northern Ireland despite the lack of an abundance of Premier League players
“There’s going to be people who are looking at him. He has done a hell of job here with us. We’ve had unbelievable progression in the last couple of years. We are unlucky not to be going to the quarter-finals, for me today. I’m sure there are a lot of clubs who are thinking he is a suitable candidate for a role. Obviously we would like to keep him, selfishly. But I’m sure at some point he will go on to manage a big club side.”
The Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern, superb again against Wales after his display against Germany saw him named in the L’Equipe team of the tournament group stages, said he has had several approaches from clubs. He is out of contract at Hamilton Academical.
“There’s been a bit of interest, I think, since the Germany game – but before the tournament there’s been interest as well. I wanted to come and didn’t want to say anything to Hamilton because it’s a great opportunity. So obviously Hamilton are keen to keep me as well so I do have options.”
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