The universal acclaim greeting Michael O’Neill’s departure as Northern Ireland manager reflected the esteem in which he is held both there and elsewhere.
There is talk of celebrating him at a future game, whenever that might be, while he will always be welcome back at Windsor Park. Even his departure to focus on Stoke City was conducted with admirable decency.
With no games taking place in the foreseeable future, it made little sense in him staying at extra cost to the Irish FA. It is understood O’Neill waived as much as £500,000 in potential wages.
But what struck me is how rare it is to celebrate a departing manager. Or maybe there’s a need to qualify this – how rare for Scotland fans.
When in recent times have the Tartan Army had reason to bid someone such a fond farewell? Even those such as Craig Brown, who unquestionably did a decent job, suffered from staying on perhaps one campaign too long. Brown’s last game took place against a backdrop of indifference as Scotland played out the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup against Latvia at a half-empty Hampden having already been eliminated.
Andy Roxburgh got Scotland to a World Cup and a first-ever European Championship finals but still left under a cloud. A disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign for USA 94, which included a 5-0 defeat by Portugal on “the night a team died”, was an unflattering epitaph.
Walter Smith and Alex McLeish were perceived to have left Scotland in the lurch when absconding for Rangers and Birmingham City after productive spells. A sense of grievance coloured the view of them in the eyes of fans.
Then there’s the unlamented Berti Vogts, George Burley, Craig Levein and McLeish mark two.
Many mourn Gordon Strachan in hindsight but were happy to see him go after another qualification failure. We can but wish to one day throw garlands around a departing Scotland manager’s neck.