Michael O’Neill was in the Potteries rather than Amsterdam for this afternoon’s Nations League draw.
Northern Ireland were still introduced and referred to as Michael O’Neill ‘s Northern Ireland – but the man himself is busy preparing Stoke City for a crunch Championship match this weekend against Hull City.
Indeed, O’Neill will be in charge of his nation for the Euro 2020 play-offs later this month but he is not expected to be on the sidelines when the Nations League takes place in 2020/21.
For what it’s worth, Northern Ireland have been drawn in a group with Norway, Romania and Austria, meaning whoever is in charge will have to find a way of taming the likes of Erling Haaland and Marko Arnautovic.
Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol said: “One of the clever things about the Nations League is that teams are going to be pretty evenly matched.
“We’ve seen that in Northern Ireland’s group; they’ve got Romania, Norway and Austria. I think Michael O’Neill will be happy with that draw.
“Significantly, actually, he’s not in Amsterdam today because obviously his day job is managing Stoke City, who have got a very important game this weekend against Hull.
“He has stayed behind to work at Stoke – but I imagine he’s watching Sky Sports News and he’s pleased with that draw.
“But short term he’s much more focused on the Euros play-off later this month against Bosnia – and if they win that game they have a final play-off in Belfast against either Slovakia or Republic of Ireland.
“The Nations League is just a distraction at the moment for Northern Ireland, their focus is winning that play-off and reaching Euro 2020 this summer.”
O’Neill has been in charge of Northern Ireland since 2011 and took them into the knock-out stages of Euro 2016.
Motherwell’s Stephen Robinson has been the bookies’ favourite to take over, with Oran Kearney and Tommy Wright also linked.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: “We’re in with some strong opposition.
“We have faced all teams in fairly recent history with Romania en route to our Euro 2016 adventure, Norway in the 2018 campaign and Austria in our inaugural Nations League tournament.
“The more competitive football our senior men’s team get, the better and I hope we start the campaign on the back of a summer being involved in UEFA Euro 2020 which remains our number one priority.”
Group A1: Netherlands, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland
Group A2: England, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland
Group A3: Portugal, France, Sweden, Croatia
Group A4: Switzerland, Spain, Ukraine, Germany
Group B1 : Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Romania
Group B2: Czech Republic, Scotland, Slovakia, Israel
Group B3: Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Hungary
Group B4: Wales, Finland, Rep of Ireland, Bulgaria
Group C1: Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro
Group C2: Armenia, Estonia, North Macedonia, Georgia
Group C3: Moldova, Slovenia, Kosovo, Greece
Group C4: Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Belarus, Albania
Group D1: Malta, Andorra, Latvia, Faroe Islands
Group D2: San Marino, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar