The role of the international manager has long been regarded as among the most prestigious and challenging in football. With a limited pool of players to choose from and even greater restrictions on the amount of time they have to work with those players, the pressures and rewards have always been very different from those of a club boss.

As part of the UCFB-LMA Insight Series, we spoke exclusively with Northern Ireland Manager Michael O’Neill about the differences between the club and the international game, the skills he looks for when recruiting staff and his advice for UCFB students.

“Hard work, loyalty and trust are a given,” he said. “What I like to see in someone within my staff is initiative – I love people who bring me ideas. I don’t always do them or agree with them but I love people that will bring me something that’s a little bit different from what we’re currently doing.”

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With Northern Ireland in the midst of an international round of fixtures in which they’ve faced The Netherlands and the Czech Republic, O’Neill explained: “We’ve done that well with Northern Ireland – one of the biggest pleasures I’ve had in the six years that I’ve been in the job is that a number of my staff have gone on and progressed in their careers. Steven Robinson was a Community Coach with us and is now Manager of Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League. Andy Massey, who was our doctor, is now the doctor at Liverpool. Austin MacPhee is now the Assistant Manager at Hearts. They’ve all progressed because they have the qualities I look for – not down to me but they took the opportunity and developed themselves and their careers.”

O’Neill, who played for 13 clubs in his career including Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibernian and Wigan Athletic, also had some wise words of advice for UCFB students aspiring to work in the football industry: “Persevere. Football is an industry where you’re going to get a lot of knockbacks potentially and it can be intimidating. But with every opportunity you get you should really see what that opportunity is. Be a networker. Go and speak to people, communicate with people. Every one of those opportunities is a chance to show what you’re capable of.

"It comes back to initiative again; don’t be frightened to take risks or bring ideas to people. Don’t be disappointed if people knock you back in the early days, just persevere, have initiative and be true to yourself.”

Having won 31 caps for Northern Ireland between 1988 and 1996, O’Neill went on to manage Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers before taking the reins at Windsor Park in 2011.

Speaking about the unique challenges of international management, O’Neill commented: “The biggest challenge is the timeframe in terms of bringing players from maybe 20 clubs. With the way FIFA and UEFA have rescheduled qualifiers, they start on a Thursday and finish on a Tuesday so sometimes you don’t even get three days. We had three days to prepare for a World Cup playoff game against Switzerland and some of our players were playing on a Sunday. That’s the massive challenge in terms of the timeframe and getting your players in, fit and recovered.

"We have a small group of staff of about four to five people and it’s not about all playing the same system, it’s more about trying to develop the quality of the player we that have. Also to find players that are eligible for us as well. We’ve had a good year – we missed out on the World Cup very harshly against Switzerland, but I think that working together having everyone working together trying to keep that communication – it’s difficult in international football because we’re dotted all over the country – but we try and meet monthly to make sure we’re all part of a strong team managing a limited pool of players but hopefully a pool of players that can bring success.”