Aaron reveals secrets of O’neill success
Man management Eye for detail Tactical nous Creating a sense of unity Changing the entire culture in the dressing-room Never wasting a single minute
VETERAN defender Aaron Hughes has revealed the blueprint behind Northern Ireland’s renaissance under Michael O’neill.
As well as tactical nous, Hughes believes O’neill’s eye for detail, man management skills and ability to cultivate a sense of unity helped “dreams come true” at Euro 2016.
“It was a whole culture change,” said Northern Ireland’s most capped outfield player, who is currently out of contract at Hearts and weighing up his future.
Hughes, 38, has played under five international managers, including Lawrie Mcmenemy, Sammy Mcilroy, Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington.
But it is O’neill, who lured him out of a brief period of international retirement when he was appointed in 2012, who has left the biggest impression.
He credits the 48-year-old for altering the mindset of a Northern Ireland team that went on to defy the odds by reaching the Euros two years ago.
Hughes said: “A lot of people forget the campaign before (the Euros) wasn’t great results wise, but there was a lot of work being done in games and training sessions.
“One thing Michael did was make sure there wasn’t a minute wasted. Everything was focused on how he wanted us to play and how we were going to get success.”
One of O’neill’s masterstrokes was a refusal to select certain players because of their club, a move that engendered a sense of purpose within the squad.
Hughes told the Modern Soccer Coach podcast: “In the past, if you were maybe at a higher club, you just naturally started the game, just because you were seen to be at a higher club.
“Michael came in and basically said ‘I don’t care where you’re playing’. That gave confidence to those lads who maybe weren’t getting much gametime.
“They had something to go for and think ‘this is my shirt, I could hold on to it’. It (also) meant the lads who weren’t really bothered whether they played or not fell out of the squad.
“You ended up with 25 lads who all wanted to be there, all wanted the same thing and were going in the same direction. It was a whole culture change.”
O’neill reminds Hughes of ex-england boss Roy Hodgson, who was a stickler for detail and repetition on the training pitch.
Hughes spent two seasons under Hodgson at Fulham where they helped the London club reach the 2010 Europa League Cup final, which they lost to Atletico Madrid.
He said: “Michael’s attention to detail is unbelievable, how he analyses the games and talks to us. The content of our sessions, it’s never wasted time. Ever.
“As a player it’s enjoyable and you want to turn up because you’re getting success from it. Next you’re going to the Euros.
“Dreams were coming true.”