Saturday 15 December 2018

FAI losing confidence that Martin O'Neill will stay on following Stoke talks


Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane could be taking over from Mark Hughes at Stoke
Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane could be taking over from Mark Hughes at Stoke

Colin Young and Daniel McDonnell

The FAI's confidence that Martin O'Neill will stay has waned with Abbotstown sources bracing themselves for the departure of the Derryman.

He met Stoke for talks yesterday and further discussions are planned for today.

A Stoke delegation did fly to Spain to meet Espanyol boss Quique Sánchez Flores earlier this week, but O'Neill is scheduled to hold further talks with the Premier League club's hierarchy today and would suit their need for a quick appointment.

O’Neill is in pole position to succeed Mark Hughes after Gary Rowett opted to stay with Derby County and the Premier League strugglers remain keen to have a new man in place for Monday’s league meeting with Manchester United.

The 65-year-old fits the bill because of his experience at top-flight level and the fact he has always been held in high regard by the Stoke hierarchy.

He has also only made a verbal agreement with the FAI to extend his contract to the Euro 2020 campaign which means there would be no issue for the Potters in terms of compensation.

It’s understood that O’Neill is interested by the prospect of a return to club management and, if discussions lead to a firm offer, it would be a permanent deal as opposed to a short-term job-sharing arrangement until the end of the club season.

Stoke were expected to meet O’Neill tonight and have set aside time to continue negotiations today, in the hope of holding a press conference Friday and having their new man in place at Old Trafford.

O’Neill and Keane have struck up a solid working relationship since taking the Irish reins in 2013 and it’s believed that the Corkman is part of the Stoke equation. The Ireland manager had previously identified Keane as his ideal successor, but maintaining their partnership could offer the number two a straightforward route back into the English club game.

However, in the event that O’Neill is unable to secure a position for Keane within any package to take over at Stoke – Steve Walford, Steve Guppy and Seamus McDonagh would also be in contention for roles – then the Irish assistant could be left in sole charge of the national team.

Abbotstown officials insist it was business as usual with O’Neill booked to travel to Switzerland in a fortnight’s time for the UEFA Nations League draw.

The FAI say there has been no approach from Stoke, but the manager’s loose contractual position removes the need for a formal process.

O’Neill was happy to stay on for another two years when the FAI stepped up discussions in October in order to reach agreement – although they did not discuss terms and conditions before the news that he would staying on for a third campaign was announced.

The Irish manager was then stung by criticism in the aftermath of the crushing World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark at Lansdowne Road only a month later.

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