Michael O'Neill leaves for Stoke - and stays with Northern Ireland
SHOULD he stay or should he go? Michael O’Neill has decided to do both.
The clash of ‘club versus country’ has been avoided, at least for now. The new Stoke City boss remains the Northern Ireland manager – and that dual status could extend until the end of next March.
The Potters’ desire to appoint the 50-year-old was clearly so great that they have agreed to allow a job-share which may extend to almost five months.
The Irish Football Association’s understandable belief in O’Neill’s managerial ability is such that they have negotiated his retention not only for the last two Euro 2020 Group C qualifiers later this month but also the probably play-off game(s) next March.
Fittingly for someone prepared to ‘double job’, it is understood that O’Neill will double his money with his move to Stoke, set to earn a reported £1.5m annual salary over a four-year deal.
In a strange twist, the first two opponents which O’Neill will face as Stoke manager, either side of the forthcoming international break, will be the same two either side of another potential route to the Euros for Northern Ireland, namely Barnsley and Wigan Athletic.
Those fellow strugglers present the possibility for a strong start to his club managerial career in England - a win at Oakwell tomorrow would lift Stoke off the bottom of the Championship as Barnsley are only a point above them, while Wigan – whom Stoke will host on November 23 - are in 20th place in the English second tier. O’Neill took charge of Stoke training yesterday morning ahead of their match in south Yorkshire this afternoon.
If, as is highly likely, Northern Ireland don’t qualify automatically for Euro 2020, it’s almost certain that they will be involved in a play-off next March, and a potential play-off final later that month.
That international break will come after a trip to Wigan on March 21 and before a home match against Barnsley on April 4.
By then, O’Neill should have had his first significant foray into the transfer market in January, with Stoke still able to avail of parachute payments following their relegation from the English top flight in 2018.
It will be interesting to see if O’Neill makes moves for any Northern Ireland players, many of whom do not get regular game-time with their current clubs.
Stoke will hope not only to climb the Championship table but to enjoy a period of stability, having had two managers – Gary Rowett and Nathan Jones - since their demotion from the Premier League after a decade in the top flight.