Michael O'Neill: Fans and media would not give Austin MacPhee a chance as Hearts boss

Stoke City manager says MacPhee should be handed Sporting Director role

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 8:53 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th November 2019, 3:43 pm
Michael O'Neill has worked with Austin MacPhee for five years

Michael O’Neill believes Austin MacPhee would not be treated fairly by fans or the media if he were to be handed the manager’s role by Hearts to replace the sacked Craig Levein - just like a predecessor who failed in the role, Ian Cathro.

O’Neill, who became manager of Stoke City last week but will see out his duties as Northern Ireland boss, has used MacPhee as his assistant in his national role for five years, and praised the 40-year-old for his knowledge and innovative approach to the game.

But, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound, he said: “I do at times think there is a resistance. Austin is different, there’s no doubt about that. He thinks about the game different.

Sign up to our Hearts newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I think Ian Cathro was in a similar mould and I think a lot of the criticism of Ian in the media was unfair. Ian is now working in the Premier League with Wolves and you don’t get to that level without a good knowledge of the game. I think we are too quick to judge people if they are not in the scene of Scottish football.”

Because Levein was also director of football, Hearts must fill both roles, but O’Neill pointed out that ideally the director should be appointing the manager and suggested that MacPhee might be “more suited” to the director role.

“Because I don’t think he would be given a fair chance as head coach given the water that’s gone under the bridge and what happened with Ian,” he said.

“I understand people’s opinions about whether he is ready or not to be a number one, but regardless of whether he is the manager or not, I think Hearts would be very silly to think he does not have a value to the club.

“What he’s brought to me is a high level of knowledge on the opposition, a creative way to train, which is particularly important in international football, when you have a short time to prepare, and he’s been creative in how he brought information to the players and how it has been communicated to the players,” he said.

“We have players like Jonny Evans, Steven Davis and Craig Cathcart who have played at the highest level in the Premier League and he has a lot of respect from those players. Austin has a good way of looking at the game and has a lot of initiatives that are extremely valuable to Hearts.”

MacPhee, who did not play at a high level and began his coaching career with Cupar Hearts, guided Hearts to a 5-2 victory over St Mirren at Tynecastle on Saturday in a performance praised by fans and the media.