Gareth McAuley’s Northern Ireland career has been decorated to say the least. Michael O’Neill, however, hasn’t found any room for the Rangers man in his latest squad.
The Rangers centre-back is yet to feature for Steven Gerrard’s side. So far, Connor Goldson, Joe Worrall, and Nikola Katic have been playing in recent weeks. A lack of game-time has evidently left the centre-back with a lack of match-fitness.
O’Neill named his Northern Ireland squad without naming McAuley in it. These days, that’s something of a rarity, with the likes of Hearts’ Aaron Hughes and Paddy McNair in ahead of him.
“Gareth just needs to get daily training at a good intensity with players, otherwise he is a huge injury risk, and that’s a risk I am not willing to take with him.
“It wasn’t a risk I thought was fair for Rangers either. So it is in everyone’s best interests that Gareth gets playing with Rangers. It isn’t going to help him coming away with us for 10 days because there is a temptation for me to use him.
“Gareth is fit, but he was fit because he was keeping himself fit. He wasn’t football fit. At 38, when you go in training, you need to be managed very carefully.”
A lack of match-fitness
A lack of match-fitness has McAuley frozen out in the short term. By the sounds of things, the defender can expect to be recalled into the squad for the next set of matches next month.
O’Neill has confirmed he hopes to have the defender back and in once more when November comes around. But if this is down to match-fitness, then surely there’s no certainty that’s possible.
Gerrard most likely won’t be giving McAuley much game-time between now and the next set of international fixtures. Goldson and Katic are the number one pairing, and the Rangers manager also likes Worrall.
Where McAuley may have some hope is the fact that Worrall isn’t as adored at Ibrox as Goldson and Katic. The centre-back was terrible at the Tony Macaroni Arena, and his role in the side shouldn’t be nailed on.
O’Neill selected McAuley for his last international squad, but the defender sat out both games against Bosnia and Israel. There’s no denying that as soon as the veteran cente-back is back fit he’ll be back in O’Neill’s squad.
At the moment, however, the defender needs to get himself in and around Gerrard’s squad.