Football: O'Neil back with a touch of German steel

Phil Gordon explains how the Bundesliga has rebuilt a career

BRIAN O'NEIL has taken the long way round to rekindle his Scotland career, but at least he will have the shortest journey of all Craig Brown's players before Wednesday's friendly match with Germany.

The former Celtic man has only to jump in his car and drive an hour- and-a-half up the motorway to get back on the road to fulfilling the glittering career once mapped out for him. When the Scots touch down on Monday in Bremen, O'Neil, recalled to the squad after a three-year absence, will be there waiting for them.

The 26-year-old spends so much time on the autobahns these days, that life can often have the monotony of a Kraftwerk record, but the Vfl Wolfsburg central defender is not complaining. "Away games in the Bundesliga can mean seven-hour road trips," he said. "However, the buses are like a hotel, which is just as well, for we live in them at times."

Wolfsburg have been the success story of the Bundesliga. The provincial club could be involved in Europe next season, and such has been the Scot's contribution Brown could not ignore the player whose tears he wiped away as a heartbroken schoolboy.

Wolsburg's ascent has been so rapid that, for an adequate comparison, imagine Dagenham reaching the Champions' League. The club which started out life as the works team for Volkswagen, were playing in the fourth division in front of 600 fans just seven years ago. Now 20,000 pack in to see which aristocratic noses will be the latest to be bloodied.

"We're in fifth place," said O'Neil proudly, "and Germany will have four teams in the Champions' League. It would be unbelievable for this club, especially when you consider there are big teams like Hamburg, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen all behind us."

Just as incredible would be O'Neil's return to the limelight. He came to the German backwater to rebuild his career after several wrong turnings. Three years ago, O'Neil was carving out a name for himself with Celtic. His successful conversion from midfield to defence - in a Celtic rearguard which conceded only 23 league goals and went eight months unebeaten - was recognised by Brown who gave him his first cap, against Australia, in the build-up to Euro 96. But a knee injury intervened. Then a costly mistake which allowed Brian Laudrup to score the winner in a key match with Rangers meant he was unable to restore his image with the criticial Parkhead support.

O'Neil then did well enough on loan at Nottingham Forest to set up a transfer, until relegation from the Premiership pulled the plug on the deal. Instead, O'Neil moved to Aberdeen but after an unhappy season there, jumped at the chance of going to Germany when Wolfsburg paid pounds 750,000.

His progress has not gone unnoticed by Brown, who receives weekly tapes of Bundesliga action. "Brian has a different role to the one he had here," says the Scotland coach. "He is a marker of the type we don't have in British football." Given the shakiness of Scotland's defence recently, particularly Matt Elliott, O'Neil could get the chance to stake his claim in Bremen when Oliver Bierhoff of Milan and Bayern Munich's Carsten Jancker could be on the bill.

The Germans, not surprisingly, are demanding employers. "If my man doesn't score, I've had a good game," said O'Neil. "If he does, well . . . the coach or the newspapers don't miss you." Brown, though, feels that a touch of vorsprung durch technik was exactly what was needed in O'Neil's game.

Coach and player go back a long way. To the summer of '89, when O'Neil was the captain of the Scotland Under-16 side, coached by Brown, who reached the World Cup final. O'Neil, who had missed a penalty against Saudi Arabia, then missed the decisive one in the shootout, to break his own young heart and 51,000 others inside Hampden Park.

"I don't want this to be a one-off," he said. "I want Craig Brown to know that I'd like to be in his plans long-term. I am not a kid any more and I have grown up a lot. At Celtic, maybe I was a bit too nice for my own good but now I've added aggression to my game."

Like another Scot before him, Paul Lambert, who was turned into a Champions' League winner by Borussia Dortmund, O'Neil is finding that the Germans demand a high price for efficiency. "I am away from home a lot which means it is tough for my wife Lisa, who has to look after our daughter, Kristie, on her own."

That itinerary could be added to, if Wolsburg reach their European destination, with the Scot musing: "Volkswagen give us massive backing, and there are even plans to build a new stadium. If we got into the Champions' League, it would be good for their image. I wish I had made this move years ago."

If only everything in football was as reliable as a club supported by Volkswagen.

Suggested Topics
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home