Michael O'Neill hoping to sign new Northern Ireland deal
NORTHERN Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has confirmed he expects to sign a new contract with the Irish Football Association, having turned down the chance to become the next Scotland boss.
Edinburgh-based O’Neill last week held talks with the Scottish Football Association regarding its vacancy but has elected to remain with Northern Ireland.
The 48-year-old was appointed by the IFA in December 2011 and is understood to have been offered improved terms on a deal that will run until 2024.
“We had very positive discussions before Christmas and I envisage now we’ll pick up from where we left off,” O’Neill said.
“It’s not in terms of negotiations, there’s just things that need to be sorted.
“The discussions were very, very positive so I look forward to having something to announce in the coming days.”
O’Neill guided the North to the last 16 stages at Euro 2016, their first major tournament in 30 years, and the nation then progressed to a play-off for the 2018 World Cup in November.
A controversial penalty in the first leg ultimately sent Switzerland through and there were fears O’Neill could then depart Northern Ireland, with the SFA identifying him as its preferred candidate to succeed Gordon Strachan.
However, it took the organisation two months to agree to pay the stipulated £500,000 compensation figure, and O’Neill had already held discussions with the IFA about extending his stay in the aftermath of the tie with the Swiss.
On why he rejected the Scottish offer, O’Neill (above) added: “There wasn’t just one factor, of course it was a difficult decision. I live there in Scotland, know Scottish football very well, follow it very closely. It was tempting but ultimately I’ve been in this job six years and I’ve seen a lot of progression with the national team.
“I felt it was the right thing to do. It was very difficult, I wish Scotland and their next manager well.
“Ultimately it’s very difficult once you’ve led your own country to leave for another country.”
O’Neill was speaking after attending the Uefa Nations League draw in Switzerland where Northern Ireland were pitted against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group Three of League B.
Having agreed to remain as manager, O’Neill will now hope his key senior players can be convinced to shelve international retirement plans.
Gareth McAuley, who had previously said he would consider his international future if O’Neill left, and Chris Brunt are amongst those the he wants to stay on.
“I’ve spoken to most of the lads in question and discussions have been very, very positive,” he added.
“There are two sides to it. It’s March 2019 before the qualification for the Euros starts in earnest. The Nations League is almost like a pre-tournament. I’d like to go in with the strongest team possible.
“Our players have had a great four years. Some played a lot of international football and didn’t have too many positives, too many great memories, and going forward they want it to last as long as possible.”
THE UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE EXPLAINED
DESIGNED to replace most international friendlies with competitive games, the Uefa Nations League also offers a possible route to Euro 2020 – with the play-offs for the tournament due to involve the 16 group winners. If they have already qualified for Euro 2020 the next best-ranked team in their league will go into the play-offs. Each league has a path of its own, and will consist of two single-leg semi-finals and a one-off final. The winner of each path qualifies for Euro 2020.
Group 1: Germany, France, Netherlands
Group 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
Group 3: Portugal, Italy, Poland
Group 4: Spain, England, Croatia
Group 1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group 3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group 4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark
Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel
Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
Group 3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania
Group 1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar
Matchday 1: 6–8 September 2018
Matchday 2: 9–11 September 2018
Matchday 3: 11–13 October 2018
Matchday 4: 14–16 October 2018
Matchday 5: 15–17 November 2018
Matchday 6: 18–20 November 2018
Finals draw: early December 2018
Finals: June 5-9 2019
Uefa EURO 2020 play-off draw: November 22, 2019
Uefa EURO 2020 play-offs: March 26–31, 2020