Sunday 8 December 2019

IFA fears interest in O'Neill after Euros

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland pulled off a shock by beating Ukraine
Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland pulled off a shock by beating Ukraine

James Ducker

The president of the Irish Football Association (IFA) has admitted they run the risk of losing Michael O'Neill in anticipation of the highly regarded Northern Ireland manager being offered a route back into club management after Euro 2016.

O'Neill signed a new four-year contract with the IFA in March but his exploits in guiding Northern Ireland to France and the plaudits he received for his bold selection gamble in the 2-0 win over Ukraine in Lyon last Thursday have raised expectations of the 46-year-old landing a prominent club job in England or Scotland.

The manager's stock will soar further if he masterminds a result against world champions Germany at the Parc des Princes in Paris tomorrow that secures Northern Ireland's progress to the round of 16 - a game that could be worth as much as £2m (€2.5m) to the IFA.

"Michael is doing a fantastic job and taking us to new levels," said IFA president Jim Shaw.

"The big decisions he took for the Ukraine game worked spectacularly.

"We want Michael to stay a long time but we appreciate the better he does, the more interest there will be in him."

The IFA will receive £800,000 if they beat Germany plus an additional £1.2m for qualifying for the first knockout stage.

They have already earned £6m for qualifying for the finals and £800,000 for the victory over Ukraine, when O'Neill dropped star striker Kyle Lafferty - one of five changes from the opening 1-0 defeat by Poland - and moved from a defensive 5-3-2 system to an attacking 4-3-3.

O'Neill won just one of his first 18 matches in charge of Northern Ireland after accepting the job in 2011 but the transformation since has been remarkable and Shaw, who believes the manager would be a success in any line of business, is glad he never bowed to those calling for a managerial change a few years ago.

"There were a few big things I noticed about Michael and why I was so determined to see him get a new contract," Shaw said.

"Apart from being a good overall manager on every front, he had a football plan in his head and you could see it materialising.

"Results were atrocious [at the start] but the performances were steadily improving and away from the glare of the fans, he was working beneath the surface on the youth system and so on for the future. All of that combined told me that if you got rid of this guy, you have to find somebody else who could do a better job and I couldn't see anybody who could at that time.

"I honestly believe Michael could be a success as a manager in any line of business." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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