Brendan Rodgers has warned the Scottish FA they will need to exercise patience if they are to successfully secure the services of Michael O’Neill.
Celtic manager Rodgers feels his compatriot is capable of leading Scotland to the finals of both Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup if he decides to quit as Northern Ireland boss and accept the SFA’s offer to replace Gordon Strachan.
But Rodgers is uncertain if O’Neill wants to remain in international football at a stage of his career when he could also be tempted by a return to the more regularly intense environment of a club job.
The SFA made a formal approach to the Irish FA for O’Neill this week and it’s understood the 48-year-old wants the opportunity to speak to Hampden bosses about the vacancy. Even then, Rodgers does not expect O’Neill to be rushed into any decision.
“It is a lot of thinking time for Michael just now and he deserves the respect to take his time and see where he is at,” said Rodgers.
“It is not surprising that the SFA have made their move for him. There are a number of candidates who could do the job but it is about what Michael wants to do.
“If you look at the Scotland squad right now, it is an exciting group of players there that could go forward. Michael has spent six years or so at Northern Ireland now, has done a European Championship finals and just missed out on a World Cup. Their top players over the next few years will move on.
“Michael will be disappointed at missing out on the World Cup but if you look at Scotland, it is an exciting group and if he can pull them together and develop them then he would maybe have a chance of getting them to the their first tournament finals in 20-odd years and then maybe on to a World Cup after that.
“I am sure it is one that he will think about. It is also whether he thinks whether after that period of time, does he want to do the day to day job of club football and I am sure that is something he would also consider.”
Rodgers is in fairly regular contact with O’Neill, most recently when he appraised him of the abilities of Millwall midfielder George Saville – a player the Celtic boss worked with at Reading and Chelsea – who performed well in Northern Ireland’s unfortunate play-off elimination against Switzerland.
Should O’Neill become Scotland manager, he would have an ever closer relationship with Rodgers as Celtic currently supply more players than any other club to the national team.
“Absolutely, and I want to help,” added Rodgers. “There is a real energy about the Celtic players when they go away with Scotland and there is a real core of them that can help. Michael has lived in Scotland for a number of years, he has played in Scotland and he knows what it’s like.
“If he came out of Northern Ireland there’s nobody Northern Irish or anyone who would ever hold anything against him.
“He’s devoted his life to them recently, and brought through players and was so very unfortunate not to qualify for the World Cup – I was really gutted for him and the players, because the players have been brilliant over both campaigns. Northern Irish people would want him to stay, but he’s earned the time and the respect to make the decision that is best for him in the next part of his career.”
Rodgers also believes Northern Ireland should look no further than Perth if they have to find a replacement for O’Neill. He sees St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright as the ideal fit for the job.
“Tommy would be perfect for Northern Ireland if Michael moved on,” added Rodgers. “He’d be absolutely brilliant. He’s one who has earned his stripes at St Johnstone in terms of the work he has done there to make them competitive.
“For me, like the Rangers job, Derek McInnes and him would be obvious standouts, but I really hope Tommy gets the chance, given the work he has done, to do it on a bigger stage, wherever that is.”
Rodgers saw two of his players help their countries earn a place in next summer’s World Cup finals during the international break – Mikael Lustig was part of the Sweden side who shocked Italy in the play-offs, while Tom Rogic shone in Australia’s play-off win against Honduras.
“It’s brilliant,” said Rodgers. “I’m really happy for Tom. It makes all the effort of travelling around the world each time worth it. He’s going to get to a World Cup, having missed out on the last one in Brazil.
“For Mika, that was amazing for Sweden. He thoroughly deserves it. To beat Italy over two games was great. Cristian Gamboa is also there with Costa Rica, Denmark are through so there’s a chance for Erik Sviatchenko as well. It’s the pinnacle of an international career so I’m really delighted for our guys who have a chance to go to Russia next year.”