Jonny Evans says he’d understand if Michael O’Neill left country for club job as his Sunderland odds shorten

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill
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Northern Ireland’s players would understand if manager Michael O’Neill now left for an irresistible opportunity elsewhere, according to Jonny Evans.

O’Neill’s squad bade farewell to each other in Switzerland yesterday, going their separate ways and returning to club duty after missing out on next summer’s World Cup following a devastating play-off defeat.

There is a sense it could have been more of a permanent adieu from O’Neill, who intriguingly spoke of their performance in Basel being the high point of his near six-year tenure, and of the need to console his players rather than discuss his future.

The 48-year-old is unlikely to be short of options if it is the end of the road with Northern Ireland as he is among the favourites for the vacancies with Scotland, the United States, Rangers and Sunderland.

While it would be a wrench to lose the man who so nearly guided Northern Ireland to successive major tournaments after three decades in the international wilderness, defender Evans insists the team would accept O’Neill moving if an appealing offer was forthcoming.

“As a manager, he’s unbelievable, we all love him and every single player plays for him,” West Brom’s Evans said.

“He’s such a good manager and it would be a shame to lose him. But we know on the other side, management is such a difficult job and if something came up, where it would be difficult to turn down, no-one would ever begrudge him that.”

Asked if he could appreciate why countries and clubs alike would be interested in hiring O’Neill, Evans added: “Yes, definitely. He’s so inspirational, he’s very tactical.

“Even the other night, we had just got off the plane and were on the bus on the way to the hotel. He had watched the first half (of the first leg) and he came down the bus and he was like, ‘We’re calling a meeting and we’re going to watch it because you didn’t play that bad, there are so many basic things you can improve on’.

“It gave everyone a lift straight away. He’s got such composure and his team talks, he says the right things to get the lads going.

“You can see everyone plays for him and we all really, really respect him.”