'I think there's a moral issue there' - Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill on players switching international allegiance

The Northern Ireland boss believes that there is a duty on international associations to have a genuine interest in a player before persuading them to change allegiance
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has questioned the morality of an association asking a player to switch their international allegiance at a young age.

Referring to the players who have already switched from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, such as Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and James McClean, the former Shamrock Rovers boss suggested that their international career had not been as fruitful as it would have been had they remained with the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA).

"If you look at the Northern lads who've come down here, none of them's had a particularly positive experience, let's be honest," he told the Irish Examiner.

"Marc Wilson had his problems, James [McClean] has had his problems and Darron Gibson has certainly not played anywhere near as much for the Republic of Ireland as he would have done for Northern Ireland. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

O'Neill also raised questions regarding 'a moral issue' concerning the persuasion of teenage footballers as to where their international allegiance lies, adding that it might not be 'to the benefit' of a player's career to change association.

He said: "I think to go and ask a player at 17 or 19 to change their allegiance without any potential promise of a full international career, I think there's a moral issue there and maybe that should be looked at, and it's not just a case of 'let's get them all to declare for us'.

"If you're an 18 or 19-year-old that's made that decision, and there are players who've made it at that age, and then find that you have no route to being a senior international or your pathway is blocked because of more senior players, I don't think that's to the benefit of a player's career. And I think there is a moral aspect, as an association, to make sure that the interest is genuine," he added.

"I always say to our U17s — 'you're two years away from me picking you and you have to think like that'," he continued. "So any player thinking along the lines of their eligibility, I've met with them personally and outlined to them why I believe they'd be better served playing for Northern Ireland.

"But after that, there's not really much I can do. The rule applies, rightly or wrongly, and we just have to make the best of it," concluded the Northern Ireland boss.