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Gareth Fullerton

Gerard Lyttle lays out stall as speculation mounts over Irish League return

Gerard Lyttle is refusing to rule out a return to the Irish League in the future but insists he hasn't spoken to either Ballymena United or Cliftonville over their managerial vacancies.

The Sky Blues are seeking a successor to David Jeffrey who left the club last week, while Lyttle's former club Cliftonville are believed to be in advanced talks with Jim Magilton.

Lyttle has been linked with a potential role at Solitude if Magilton gets the nod, but the 45-year-old has played down media reports surrounding his future.

Read more: That's What I Call Football podcast season finale

The former Reds boss is set to leave his role as Northern Ireland Under 17 and U19 manager despite leading both sides to the Elite stages of the European Championships, the first time the age groups have ever qualified in the Irish FA's history.

"The Irish League appeals to me. The product we have is something that really interests me," Lyttle told Belfast Live's That's What I Call Football podcast.

"I am a big fan of the league. There have been some reports about my future with the IFA which I won't go into, but I think at the minute it is nice to be linked with so many jobs.

"But I can tell you, I haven't spoken to anyone yet. As far as it goes with Jim (Magilton), I have a great working relationship with Jim and we get on so well.

"There is a massive trust between the two of us. Some people say it's like a husband and wife relationship.

"This is Jim's time, in my opinion, and I am delighted that Cliftonville have recognised that Jim is available and he is someone they should go for."

He added: "I think Jim would be a good fit. For me, he is one of the most knowledgable people in football.

"I have worked with some great managers and coaches and Jim is right up there with the best. I always enjoyed working with Jim in the Northern Ireland set-up, and I don't get some of the negative comments around Jim.

"Some people are questioning his CV. This man has worked all over the world.

"He has coached in the Championship with QPR and Ipswich Town. He has played in the Premier League, he has managed down south and his knowledge of the game is frightening.

Northern Ireland U17 and U19 manager Gerard Lyttle (William Cherry/Presseye)

"He is a big reason why so many young players from Northern Ireland have done well and earned moves across the water. He is the one who pushed the Club NI Academy, and someone like being involved in our local game is only positive for me.

"I think you have to applaud Cliftonville for recognising Jim is there, and if it comes off they will have got a really good manager.

"And if he does, he needs time. Every club needs a small rebuild and Jim will do that if he gets in, on all club matters."

Cliftonville slipped out of the title race before finishing fourth in the Premiership last season. They missed out on European qualification with a 2-0 defeat to Glentoran in Saturday's play-off final.

Lyttle believes the North Belfast club needs to rebuild before they can genuinely challenge for the Gibson Cup once again.

"I think Cliftonville are rebuilding again. I think they will have to go through a transitional period," he added.

"Yes, they have top talent there, but when I look at the squad it is a bit disjointed, when you look at the profile of the players.

"They have three or four left centre-backs, which unbalances the team. I don't think they have a right sided centre-back. So straight away you would need someone to go in there.

"You are also looking at a midfielder, a couple of wingers and potentially another forward. So there is a lot of work to be done, and whoever is coming in will recognise that."

Lyttle has also been linked with the vacant managerial position at Ballymena United following the departure of Jeffrey.

The Sky Blues also face a significant rebuild after finishing ninth last season and collapsing to a disappointing 4-0 defeat in this month's Irish Cup final.

Former captain Jim Ervin is understood to be the frontrunner for the job, and Lyttle admits the Warden Street post is an attractive role for any manager in the league.

He said: "Definitely. Ballymena was my first club when I came back from Peterborough.

"Even as far back as then, 20-odd years ago, you could see how big a club Ballymena was. I have watched them quite a bit over the past couple of seasons and watched a few training sessions.

"I have seen the facilities and indoor facilities, meeting rooms etc, they are a massive club with a massive following. So anyone out of a job would be very interested in managing a club like Ballymena.

"They are a great club with great people and support, so why wouldn't people be interested."


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