BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
THE MAN who helped give Michael O’Neill his managerial break insists there was never any doubt the Northern Ireland manager was destined for the very top.
As O’Neill readies himself to lead his country into their Euro 2016 opener against Poland tomorrow, Brechin City chairman Ken Ferguson admits there is immense pride at the Angus club at the role they have played in the 46-year-old’s career.
Brechin handed O’Neill his first managerial appointment in 2006, following a spell as number two to Mixu Paatelainen at Cowdenbeath, and the former Dundee United and Hibernian midfielder cut his teeth there during a successful two-and-a-half-year spell in charge.
O’Neill was an untried 36-year-old at the time but Ferguson claims there was certainty even then that the Irishman would go on to great things.
“”It goes without saying Michael’s done very well as a manager,” Ferguson told Capital City Press. “But I don’t think that was ever in doubt from when we first appointed him from Cowdenbeath.
“We required a new manager and our philosophy at the time, and one that we’ve maintained, was to bring through young managers.
“I think what impressed us most was his organisation. He’s very well organised, he knows exactly what he wants to do and how to go about it.
“He was very well prepared and he took the job very seriously, and I think he learned lessons throughout his playing career and from the managers he worked under, and tried to instil that in his management career.
“He’s a very good people man, he gets on very well with his players and really takes a personal interest in his players and wants to bring the best out of them.
“It’s certainly no surprise to any of us that he’s reached that level and we’re all hoping he does very well at the Euros.
“I’ve just set up an app on my phone and I had to select a favourite country on that, and the only one that could be was Northern Ireland.”
Ferguson is reluctant to claim credit for the part they have played in O’Neill’s coaching journey but has revealed Brechin almost missed out on the man who has taken his country to their first major finals in 30 years.
“We were ready to make an appointment,” he explained. “We had actually completed our interviews and were looking to name our new manager, but Michael came in very late on in the process through an introduction from an existing player.
“We just thought we had to talk to this guy and we met him and were very impressed with his attitude.
“I’m not putting ourselves down here, I’m just being realistic, but when you have someone of that calibre, who is prepared to come to a club like Brechin and can see the potential in a club like ours then it is fantastic.
“Michael wanted to get into management, wanted to cut his teeth, and was successful in doing that with us.
“I met him last season when I was at the Celtic-Malmo game. It was the first time I had seen him in a wee while and, to be fair to him, the comment he made was we had given him his break and started him off on the road to where he is now.
“But we can’t take any credit for that. At the end of the day, he did his job for us and did it very well, and he left the club in a good position, both financially and on the park.”