Tuesday 22 January 2019

O'Neill's contract cards still on table but nobody wants to blink

Martin O'Neill was on hand to launch the 2016 SportsDirect.com FAI Summer Soccer
Schools programme with Braydon Roche, Benjamin Lynch and Sadhbh McKane (SPORTSFILE)
Martin O'Neill was on hand to launch the 2016 SportsDirect.com FAI Summer Soccer Schools programme with Braydon Roche, Benjamin Lynch and Sadhbh McKane (SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

At two separate intervals yesterday, Martin O'Neill has to stop himself from talking just to check that what he was saying was making sense.

"I'm not going around in circles, am I?" "I am making myself clear, am I?"

They were neither frustrated nor anguished pleas from the Irish international manager as he continues the plodding preamble to Euro 2016 which persists in alighting upon the signing of a contract which, depending on your world view, either is or is not worth the paper it is written on.

O'Neill rarely fretted about them during his playing career, once entering a European Cup final week with Nottingham Forest without one; he and John Delaney supposedly shook hands on their current arrangement before somebody was sent off to find an expensive lawyer to draw up the papers and find a pen.


O'Neill has generally sought to honour contracts; in his current life as a manager, they are normally deemed redundant by the usual endgame for his profession; a sacking.

His personal life, too, has informed his view of these matters, one can conjecture; at this stage of his life, its vicissitudes have taught him to live life in the moment and, rather than fret about something he can control, there are plenty of other things beyond one's grasp - Seamus Coleman's perilous hamstrings - to worry about.

This contract stuff can be as simple or as complicated as one wants to make it. O'Neill says it can be done "in 15 minutes"; then again, there have been six months' worth of these minutes available to both O'Neill and Delaney since qualification so what gives?

O'Neill will continue to be linked to club appointments regardless of his contract situation so therefore it would better suit the FAI to tie their man down, ensuring they get a handsome fee. Without a signed contract, they get nothing.

O'Neill, too, despite appearing for all the world as if such matters are inconsequential to him, knows too that if he signs a contract, yet his side somehow stink at the Euros, he will get a pay-off.

Not that this is necessarily his angle. "It's not about money," he tells us, repeating the assertion for good measure. He also reiterates more than once that he felt he - and by implication his management team - were deserving of a contract when qualification was secured, a consistent position given that he (and they) also stated they would not deserve to be retained had they failed.

Now, as he made clear, that time-frame has dissolved to the point that, if nothing is agreed before June, we are now in a new space where the Euros themselves may yet ultimately decide if he has any future with the FAI.

For previous experiences with extending managerial contracts before major championships have, in successive cases with Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapattoni, spectacularly imploded in dismal World Cup campaigns.

Neither side, it seems, may be entirely comfortable with indulging a repeat scenario; hence the rather comfortable extension of the current situation where the signing of a contract appears to be engaging some supporters and media more than the parties themselves.

The issue of whether contracts are meaningful at all is a nebulous one; at club level, they preach unending loyalty but in reality are nothing of the sort. In essence, they merely provide a financial safety net for both sides - it is fairytale stuff to believe that it truly represents loyal commitment.

At international level, contracts possess less urgency and for players, who aren't tied to their flag by a contract themselves, the issue is unimportant; they always, to a man, parrot their praise for their current 'gaffer'.

O'Neill was speaking at the FAI/SportsDirect.com summer schools' launch; unlike Trapattoni, O'Neill's interest in the game here is genuine.

Nevertheless, there is an over-arching sense that solidity, to quote O'Neill, and a certain sense of security all around, would be a better option heading into the Euros, if only to ensure that endless stories about contract talks do not dominate discussion.

O'Neill's thoughts are often hard to nail down and, perhaps, that has contributed to the lack of urgency; both sides are seemingly so deliriously in thrall to the other that neither wants to express a signed commitment.

As content as both manager and FAI are with qualification, time has ticked on. Now, instead of being rewarded for being as good as his last game, the manager is only worthy of reward for being as good as his next one.

This is the "edge" O'Neill speaks of; he seems to feel uncomfortable entering the Euros with a gift-wrapped endorsement which could suddenly come back to haunt him.

He is colourful on this, reminding us of Jack Charlton's old edict of desiring to stay as long as he felt welcome.

Perhaps it is an issue that leads one round and round in circles.

But, he adds, in an enigmatic twist which sums up the entire ambiguity of the issue, "I go with an open mind but I can see the viewpoint of wanting to get something tied down beforehand. I actually see that clearly but I see my side too."

The talking, then, will continue.

O'Neill on...

Relationship with John Delaney

Really fine. We shook hands on the deal and, at the end of the day, finally signed up something. 

Contract talks affecting players

I don’t think that’s a big issue either. Not like it would be at club level.

His personal view

You like to be on the edge. As a player, the contracts never really worried me or through my managerial time.

Deserving a contract for Euro qualification

Actually I do think that I have earned that right. But you don’t want to go into the Euros and do really badly and think, ‘Are we back to square one?’

On money or seeking a long-term deal

It’s not about the money. I don’t really want a long-term deal, I’ve had all that. I can do without it.

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