BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
STEPHEN ROBINSON insists it is no surprise that the SFA have identified Michael O’Neill as their top target – after comparing his achievement in taking Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 to Leicester winning the Premier League.
Robinson was assistant to O’Neill as the tiny nation upset the odds by reaching the showpiece in France, ending an exile from major tournaments stretching back to 1986.
The adventure did not end there, with Northern Ireland qualifying from their group following a memorable 2-0 triumph against Ukraine before narrowly losing out to Wales in a clash of the Home Nations in the last-16.
While a 1-0 World Cup playoff defeat against Switzerland ended their hopes of reaching a second successive finals, Robinson believes O’Neill can reflect on an astonishing body of work during his six years in charge.
“We have a pool of 35 or 36 players to choose from and only a handful of those in the [English] Premier League,” the Motherwell manager told BBC Sportsound. “The rest are in League One and in Scotland – some not playing regularly.
“So that achievement of going to the Euros was massive. It was as big as Leicester winning the Premier League and I was proud to play a small part in that. Obviously Michael was the figurehead of it.
“Anything is possible in football if you really believe and have a camaraderie and spirit.
“Michael’s man management is special, he manages people very well. We have a mixture of people, from Premier League to League Two. But everyone is treated the same and his professionalism has seen Northern Ireland on a par with some Premier League teams in terms of how we prepare and travel.
“He is meticulous and that success is well deserved.
“If I was appointing a manager at international level, he would be the very first name on my list due to what he has done with our group of players.”
Reports have suggested that O’Neill the USA are interested in recruiting O’Neill following the departure of Bruce Arena, while he could be tempted by vacancies at club level. Northern Ireland are also pulling out all of the stops to keep him.
Having worked on the international stage and in club football, with the Steelmen and Oldham, Robinson knows his compatriot has a big decision to make regarding the nature of his next position.
“They are very different jobs,” Robinson continued. “With the international setup, you have six or seven games a year and do a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t see. But you can have tie to yourself and a life; down time and family time.
“A club job takes over your life. It is 24 hours-a-day and puts a tremendous strain on your family life. It is difficult to have any interests outside of it.
“The choice is: does Michael stay in that lifestyle that he has built and earned the right to, or does he take a full throttle club job? That is a choice for him to make and I can’t answer for him.”
Robinson added: “But I’m a Northern Ireland fan, so I hope he stays! We know how important he has been for us.”