Wednesday 22 November 2017

FAI confident of keeping Martin O'Neill despite Leicester link

Martin O’Neill enjoying a round of golf at the K Club yesterday
Martin O’Neill enjoying a round of golf at the K Club yesterday
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI remain confident that Martin O'Neill will be in charge for September's Euro 2016 qualifiers with Gibraltar and Georgia despite a day of speculation linking the Irish boss with the vacant post at Leicester.

Betting was suspended after English-based firms revealed that a number of substantial four-figure wagers were placed on O'Neill taking over from Nigel Pearson.

However, it's understood there has been no approach from the Premier League club to the FAI with regard to the 63-year-old and sources in Abbotstown have insisted there is 'nothing' in the reports claiming their manager will be making a sudden departure.

Leicester are believed to be considering their options, however, and O'Neill - a popular former manager of the club - is on their radar meaning they could decide to make an enquiry.


But he's not the only candidate in the equation. Neil Lennon, who played under the Derryman at both Leicester and Celtic, is also expected to be part of the discussion. He is currently the manager of Championship side Bolton.

Both the FAI and Leicester have declined to publicly comment on the story. From the Abbotstown point of view, that is a slight contrast from last year when they publicly dismissed the idea that O'Neill was in line to take over at Nottingham Forest.

Nevertheless, it would be a surprise if the Irish supremo walked away from the job with four games of the Euro 2016 campaign remaining, even though he has admitted on occasion that he misses the day-to-day aspect of club football.

Earlier this year, O'Neill suggested that he would be open to extending his stay with Ireland beyond his initial deal which ends when Ireland's European Championships campaign draws to a close. Yet he acknowledged that missing out on France with a whimper could possibly take the decision out of his hands.

His assistant Roy Keane has consistently been mentioned as a successor even though the Corkman has consistently stressed that he would be attracted by a return to the club sphere. He was non-committal on a second term when the matter was raised at a Q and A in Dublin last month.

Last month's draw with Scotland has left Ireland in a difficult position heading into the autumn, requiring favours from elsewhere in order to keep their French ambitions alive.

O'Neill is due to appear in Sligo next week as part of the FAI's Festival of Football leading up to the AGM. After that, his next official engagement is a trip to Russia where Ireland will be fourth seeds for the World Cup 2018 qualifying draw. The way the balls roll in St Petersburg could impact on the attractiveness of the Irish job.

Meanwhile, O'Neill's chosen netminder Shay Given does have certainty about his next move after putting pen to paper on a two-year deal with Stoke City.

Mark Hughes, who managed Given at Manchester City, swooped for the Donegal veteran when it emerged that Middlesbrough were close to signing him from Aston Villa.

Given has been allowed to leave Villa on a free transfer and will battle it out with Jack Butland for a first-team place with his arrival at Stoke paving the way for Asmir Begovic to join Chelsea.

He will link up with Irish colleagues Marc Wilson, Jonathan Walters and Glenn Whelan at the Britannia Stadium and said that was a factor in his choice along with his good relationship with Hughes.

"I know the Irish lads really well, obviously, so that will be a big help for me to settle in the dressing room," said Given.

"Mark Hughes was a big pull for me to join. I've worked with him and his staff before and it will be fantastic to work with everybody again."

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