Football/Soccer

Michael O'Neill hoping to sign new Northern Ireland deal

Having rejected the chance to manager Scotland, Michael O'Neill is confident of signing a new deal with the IFA
By Liam Blackburn

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.

LEAGUE A

Group 1: Germany, France, Netherlands

Group 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland

Group 3: Portugal, Italy, Poland

Group 4: Spain, England, Croatia

LEAGUE B

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

LEAGUE C

Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel

Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia

Group 3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus

Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania

LEAGUE D

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

SCHEDULE

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

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