Jonny Evans glad to have Michael O'Neill as his national manager
Published 03/09/2016 | 22:41
Northern Ireland's players are stunned boss 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 on Sunday, 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.
Centre-back Evans is grateful O'Neill will be leading Northern Ireland in their pursuit to reach Russia in 2018 as he feared losing him following the defeat to 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.
"It's been strange no-one has come in for him. 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.
Any prospective job application would include a growing reference from three-time Premier League champion Evans, who values his assiduous approach.
"I spoke to Michael a week or two after the Euros and he was studying the Czechs and getting ready for this game," the 28-year-old revealed.
"That really struck me that we have a manager who has probably reached the pinnacle of his career, yet within a week he had already moved on.
"He knows everything that is going on. I wouldn't like to call him a 'control freak' but he does look after everything from things that are on the menu at dinner time to the running stats that we get. You can see he's always having meetings with the physios and the doctors to make sure he is on top of things. He is really detailed.
"He trusts his staff to get on with things but him taking an interest gives them an incentive to do even more. The staff absolutely work their socks off and they play a big part for us.
"I hadn't met Michael before he took the job. The first campaign didn't go great but there was always this belief that things were changing for the better. He's a big thinker; he's not all blood and sweat. He has a brain. When you analyse what he says, it all makes sense."