Sport Soccer

Sunday 21 January 2018

O'Neill: Hoops have missed chance to go to the next level

HE may have moved on to bigger and better things, but clearly Michael O'Neill remains frustrated by the way his time at Shamrock Rovers ended.

Nowadays his job is about reinvigorating Northern Ireland, finding ways to stop Cristiano Ronaldo and trying to tactically outwit Fabio Capello as he takes on Portugal and Russia in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

But, on a visit to Dublin yesterday, it was clear that his former club's failings and their inability to capitalise on the success they experienced during his three years at the helm still irks him greatly.

O'Neill's comments will cause discomfort in the corridors of power at Tallaght Stadium after he took aim at the Hoops' hierarchy over what he perceives as their failure to take full advantage of becoming the first Irish club to reach the group stages of a European competition – a chance he feels may never present itself again.

He was also critical of the board's inability to sell out the Europa League group games and their decision to sack his successor Stephen Kenny, while he called the decision to appoint Brian Laws as director of football for the rest of the season "mystifying" as Rovers finished outside the European places less than 12 months after facing Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League.

It was, he believes, a lost opportunity.


"Rovers can easily come back and dominate domestically, but it will be difficult for them to take that a step further," he said.

"Look at the Europa League and what you have to compete against. We had players on 42-week contracts with a salary ranging from €500 per week to €1,000 per week. Rubin Kazan are spending more on taxis. Let's be honest.

"It's miles away from where the perception is. I hear people talk about League of Ireland teams competing in the Champions League.

"That's just madness. The amount of money being spent is nowhere near that."

O'Neill does not believe that it would have taken a lot to take Rovers on to the next level.

"The biggest thing for me was that we played three Europa League games here and I don't think one of them sold out," he lamented.

"It was the first time a League of Ireland club ever played in the group stages of a European competition. That was a disappointment for me and as a club we should have done better at that."

Addressing media speculation that his departure was over excessive demands, O'Neill said: "The idea that I asked for a king's ransom to stay and wanted a huge amount of difference in the budget is totally incorrect. That isn't the case at all.

"I gave them options of two models – this is how we could move to a full-time model; this is how we could stay in our current model.

"The difference was 10pc in the budget.

"The wage structure that I put in place never altered in three years. Everything was in place.

"They had to look at it and decide if it would be beneficial to go to a slightly more full-time model or keep the model as it was. I couldn't tell you what they thought."

After his contract expired, O'Neill departed to take up the reins with Northern Ireland, but he has kept a keen eye on what has gone on in the League of Ireland and shakes his head when he considers Rovers' disappointing end to last season.

"At the time I thought Stephen was a good appointment," he said. "I don't really know why it didn't work out."

Rovers replaced Kenny with Laws, who was brought in as director of football with a remit to review the club's structures and offer a new way forward. In O'Neill's view, the appointment of Trevor Croly was hardly that.

"I didn't understand them sacking Stephen. The appointment of Brian was a mystifying one for me, because I'm not sure what level of consultancy the Rovers board felt they needed.

"I listened to a couple of his interviews and they were predominantly about the advice and level of expertise that he was giving the club.

"If that was the case, why do you go and appoint someone from the league who is on your doorstep anyway?" O'Neill asked.

"I felt the situation should have been reviewed at the end of the season.

"If you are going to give Stephen the commitment they did financially over a three-year contract, it was a very short term he was actually given."

As for Croly, O'Neill believes the new manager – who quit as his assistant during the 2011 campaign – faces a big step-up, but should be given time to develop.

"As a coach you don't leave a player out of the team, you don't cut their money, you don't get rid of them – as a manager you do," he warned.

"Trevor is an intelligent lad and he has all of the capabilities to do that, but it is a difficult club to go in as your first club as a manager. I think you need good support from the board."

• Michael O'Neill and Pat Fenlon are supporting EA SPORTS™ FIFA 13 Ultimate Team. For more information log on to football/fifa-ultimate-team

Irish Independent

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