Northern Ireland’s players are stunned that manager Michael O’Neill was not poached away after the Euros this summer, according to defender Jonny Evans.
O’Neill will lead his country into a new World Cup qualifying campaign, which begins with a tricky clash in the Czech Republic tonight, off the back of having guided them to their first major finals in 30 years in France.
They reached the last 16 back in June too, a feat which saw former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers manager O’Neill’s stock rise considerably.
However, he was overlooked for the various posts which popped up both in England and Scotland this summer, with initial links to vacancies at Celtic and Hull never strengthened by serious interest.
Now centre-back Evans is grateful that O’Neill will be leading Northern Ireland in their mission to reach Russia in 2018 as he feared losing him following the defeat by Wales in Paris.
“I’m not going to deny that a few of us have said we are surprised a club hasn’t come in for him,” Evans revealed.
“He’s in a great position and I think no matter what happens in this campaign he’ll always be in a strong position.
“We are all really fond of the manager, we would all like to see him being given that chance to go and prove himself at club level. I don’t think we’d hold it against him if he did move on and manage a club.
“We’re really grateful as players that we have him for this campaign because we know the hunger he has and it really has a big impact on us as a team and individuals.”
O’Neill extended his contract with the Irish Football Association by four years back in March, though it includes a caveat that he can be prised away from the deal for a sum of £750,000.