Michael O'Neill believes that Southampton star Steven Davis is one of the "most underrated players in the Premier League" and his captain has the perfect chance to prove him right at Euro 2016. At 31 the midfielder will probably not make the headlines as a marquee signing for any of the elite clubs in the coming transfer market but he has showed during his long career that he is more important for his managers than the most expensive signing.
Southampton has seen the exodus of promising players from the club in recent seasons with the sale of Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw to Manchester United; Toby Alderweireld to Tottenham and Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren to Liverpool. Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama have been tipped to follow in their footsteps in search of greener pastures.
The former Aston Villa academy player started 31 out of 34 Premier League games in the last campaign while playing a crucial role in his side's qualification for the Europa League by scoring three goals in the last two games of the Premier League against Tottenham and Crystal Palace.
The statistics might be surprising for a player who had only scored just two in the previous campaign but the veteran midfielder has proven that he likes to step up in the big occasions. Though, Davis had failed to score a single goal for Northern Ireland during the Euro qualifiers but emerged on the D-day to score a brace against Greece and send his country to a major tournament for the first time in 30 years.
After that career-defining game O'Neill stressed the importance of having a player like Davis. "There's all types of captains, but for me Steven epitomises everything you want in a captain; he takes responsibility on the pitch, he drives the team forward, he's an example in terms of how he is as a professional, how he is as a person," he said. "I didn't expect him to score an 18-yard header if I'm honest, but I'm delighted for him to get the goal because in my opinion he's one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, he's a top, top, top player and he showed that again tonight."
The European championships looks the perfect stage for Davis to showcase his talismanic qualities to the rest of Europe. Yet, he has always done that during his quiet but productive career to become a club favourite. At Aston Villa he was named Young Player of the Year, The Fans' Player of the Year and Player of the Year in the 2005-2006 season before making a move to Fulham. His stint at Rangers was even more fruitful. During his 211 appearances for the legendary Scottish club he became the club captain, reaching the Uefa Cup final in 2008 and winning three consecutive league titles before being forced to move to Southampton due to the club's financial troubles.
The creative midfielder has since continued rewriting history at St Mary's stadium as he has done with the national team. Reaching the Euro 2016 for the first time has so far been the most amazing chapter but as O'Neill suggests, the veteran midfielder has what it takes to do something even more special in France. He has tipped Northern Ireland to follow the footsteps of current 5000-1 Premier League champions Leicester City and giant-killers Atletico Madrid to make their own international miracle this summer and his captain will be crucial to achieving that feat.