Northern Ireland Under-17s and Under-19s manager Gerard Lyttle believes “the talent is there” in the country’s youth systems.
However the 43-year-old said his priority is on bringing through the next generation of talent rather than focusing on how he was appointed.
“The future looks good and hopefully I can continue that on,” he said.
Lyttle took over as Cliftonville manager in 2015 and had 19 months in the job before resigning from his post to take up the position with League of Ireland side Sligo. He then took on the role as manager of Northern Ireland’s Under-16 side.
“We have some great young lads who have come through our system and are playing at massive clubs,” said Lyttle.
“I want my players to enjoy themselves and go out and express themselves. I want them to be brave and express themselves against the other nations.”
He admits times have changed form he represented Northern Ireland at Under-21 level but says the drive “to work for your country and your jersey with pride” is still there.
“When I was playing in the Under-21s it was about keeping scorelines down. Yes, that mentality will still be there but we have that desire to go out and win games.
“This generation of kids is so much different now than it was when I was growing up, society has changed too. In my opinion our kids now get things handed to them far too easily.
“It’s the same in football. We were just told to get on with it and suck it up. Now we have analysts, sports psychologists, masseurs – but my opinion is that you have to work for everything both at youth and senior level.”
‘We want to create a pathway’
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on underage football in both Northern Ireland and across the water in England and Scotland. However Lyttle says he is still able to keep track of youth talent on both sides of the Irish Sea.
“My plan is to get over to some of the games between now and the end of March. I’ve been in touch with most of them. If I can’t get over they will send me footage of their games.
“It’s about keeping an eye on game time, who is playing and who is not, and off the back of that we will pick a squad.
Lyttle says he is working with senior manager Ian Baraclough and Under-21 boss Andy Crosby to work on a route through from youth football to the senior panel.
“My focus is always in what is in front, never behind. My focus is being a success is in this job,” he added.
“It’s my job to help these lads with a pathway to try and make sure we have a chance of qualifying for every tournament that comes along.
“We are preparing our lads to get out there and stay out there. If that is the case then that is only going to benefit Ian Baraclough down the line.”
— to www.bbc.co.uk