Sport

Scottish FA make official their interest in Michael O'Neill

The Scottish FA yesterday made official their interest in Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
By Chris Grace

MICHAEL O’Neill will soon have a decision to make after the Scottish FA board decided to push on with their bid to appoint him as their new manager.

As football followers across Glasgow last night digested news that Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes would not be joining Rangers, at Hampden Park earlier in the day SFA powerbrokers met to discuss their next move in the pursuit of the Northern Ireland supremo.

A sub committee including SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, president Alan McRae, Hibs chairman Rod Petrie and Partick Thistle managing director Ian Maxwell had been charged with looking into candidates to replace Gordon Strachan as Scotland boss and they reported back to the board that O’Neill remained the number one target.

It is understood that it was decided at the board meeting to press ahead with the process and speak to the Irish FA about fulfilling the stipulations required in order to speak to O’Neill, who lives in Edinburgh.

The SFA are aware they will have to pay £500,000 in compensation to their IFA counterparts to land O’Neill and are willing to have discussions about that next move.

It is interesting to note, however, that the SFA are not intent on rushing the process, feeling that this is one of the most crucial appointments they have ever made.

Regan, in particular, has made it clear to his colleagues that he feels O’Neill is the man to take the Scots forward and to a first major tournament since they featured in the 1998 World Cup finals.

He has been hugely impressed how O’Neill built Northern Ireland up from a team seemingly without hope to one that reached the finals of the European Championships last year and were one controversial decision away against Switzerland in the play-offs from going to next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

O’Neill is content in his current job and it will take great persuasion for him to leave, especially with the Irish FA offering him a new six-year deal worth over £4 m to show how much they want him to continue the outstanding work he has already carried out.

While the ex-Shamrock Rovers manager will speak to the SFA if contract conditions are met, the IFA are quietly confident that in a straight choice between the Scots and the North, O’Neill will opt to stay where he is.

Should a club side enter the fray, things could change.

O’Neill has expressed an interest in going into club management in the future with a shot at the Premier League in England the ultimate aim.

West Bromwich Albion considered O’Neill after sacking Tony Pulis, but then opted for Alan Pardew to try and keep them in the top flight.

Championship side Sunderland wanted the 48-year-old from Ballymena but moving to the troubled Stadium of Light outfit was not on his radar.

When McInnes looked to be heading to Ibrox, there was talk in Scotland about Aberdeen viewing O’Neill as a replacement.

Now that McInnes has decided to stay at Pittodrie, some Rangers supporters are calling for their board to move for O’Neill.

He is not without options and they could increase by the time Northern Ireland are due to play again – a friendly in March.

In the meantime, the IFA are continuing as normal with O’Neill at the helm and they are hoping and expecting it to stay that way for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

That tournament has taken on extra importance for Scotland as Hampden will stage some of the games along with Wembley and the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, but whether they can lure O’Neill away from Windsor Park remains to be seen.

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