Martin O’Neill admits missing out on Celtic managerial role as he opens up about Parkhead romance 17 years later
Martin O’Neill may have led the Republic of Ireland, but part of his heart will always remain in Scotland.
A particular corner of it, to be precise.
It has been 17 years since O’Neill’s five-year reign at Celtic came to an end, but the bond has never been broken.
The Northern Ireland manager’s money laden spell has made him a fan favorite forever, but these days the feeling is mutual.
O’Neill is also a supporter – and he admitted that his family is even harder to live with now than they were when he was in the shelter.
But he might not win a popularity vote in his own house if he takes on current boss Ange Postecoglou.
The 70-year-old is looking forward to his two adopted countries facing off in Dublin in the Nations League tomorrow and he said: “I have two daughters and one of them is now a bigger fan. Celtic than when I was manager, which is a big disappointment for me!
“She’s running around, ‘Angel, Angel, Angel.’
O’Neill is now based in London, but the nostalgia circuit takes him back to his punditry duties.
And he admits Glasgow still feels like home – and always will.
O’Neill said: “Honestly, I missed it so much. Seriously.
“My wife, who hated every place she had been in her life, loved Scotland.
“If she ever goes to heaven – which she won’t – she’ll complain too!
“But she liked it here and I was the same. It was great.
“You would wake up and look out the window not knowing if it was June or October.
“But that didn’t matter to us coming from Northern Ireland.
“I came to play the Motherwell game [on the final day of the season] with Stiliyan Petrov and the ambiance and the singing, it reminds you of everything.
“I’ve had some great days, the torch has passed, the crèche is going well and everything looks rosy.
“I did five – it was like five minutes. I absolutely miss it.
“You will always do that, I think the last breath will be, was there a game on Saturday?”
Well, there’s a game this Saturday, but it doesn’t involve his beloved Celtic.
There is plenty of intrigue for O’Neill, however, as Ireland – whom he led to Euro 2016 during his five years in charge – welcome Scotland to the Nations League.
Diplomatic, is how you would describe his thoughts on the establishment of the current Republic.
Stephen Kenny’s reign started badly and then resumed.
But losing to Ukraine the other night following a shock loss to an Armenian side that wouldn’t look out of place in the Powerleague has ratcheted up the pressure on our Celtic cousins.
O’Neill said: “Where is Ireland right now? That’s a very good question. The game against Armenia was a big, big setback. Sometimes you get a few results in matches against teams that are not in the top 80 – teams like Andorra, Lithuania. You may start to get the wrong impression of where you are.
“Then you travel to Armenia expecting to win and have a bad start. It was a major setback for them.
“I guess a few years into Stephen’s reign you would have to ask… I think there are several things about that.
“If his mandate was to rebuild an Irish team and have the time to do that, then that’s fine. But in international football you always have to win football matches.
As for Scotland, O’Neill seems slightly more optimistic, although he thinks the scars of the World Cup play-off defeat to Ukraine will require more healing than a walk against the abject Armenians. .
O’Neill said: “If Scotland are full they have really, really decent players playing for them at the minute. I think there has been an improvement in Scotland lately. But it depends how quickly they can overcome this disappointment. They just have to push him aside. Andy Robertson plays for Liverpool, John McGinn plays for Aston Villa and plays great. There are some very good players.
“They fought so hard to get there and had some fantastic times over the past few months, getting last minute goals and everything going their way.
“It was really disappointing as far as Scotland was concerned. I know some of the pundits tried to soften the blow afterwards by saying Scotland would come back and yes, they will.
“I think they are strong enough but it takes a bit longer to overcome because World Cups are not every 10 minutes.”
Scotland and Ireland seem fairly equal – and they have similar issues.
O’Neill thinks there’s a reason Wales managed to do what their mates failed to do.
They have the kind of world-class performer in Gareth Bale’s final third that the Scots and Irish dream of.
O’Neill said, “You need that difference maker. When I ran the Republic, Robbie Keane was ending his career. He was about 34 and he just couldn’t do it.
“We would have screamed for a Robbie Keane to be maybe 10 years younger, but we didn’t have that.
“Scotland don’t have a Gareth Bale by the minute and Ireland haven’t had one since Robbie Keane in his prime. don’t go there.
Martin O’Neill was promoting Premier Sports live and exclusive coverage of the Republic of Ireland v Scotland.
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