Saturday 14 December 2019

Five questions that Martin O’Neill and the FAI need to answer

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: PA
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: PA

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Just what the FAI wanted as they prepare for what should be a stormy board meeting in Dublin on Thursday night: a storm warning, predictions of high winds and low temperatures for the week ahead.

On the face of it, the two employers involved in the farrago of the last week appear to have got their man: Paul Lambert is installed as the new Stoke City manager, in situ for last night’s trip to Old Trafford, while Martin O’Neill is, we are told, committed to the Ireland job (again).

There’s still a wall of silence in place by the FAI and O’Neill over the on/off move to Stoke which has had every Irish football fan talking in the days since Stoke sacked Mark Hughes.

John Delaney is due to face the media in Dublin tomorrow, though we still don’t know when Martin O’Neill will address the Irish public, via the media.

In the meantime, here are some questions that O’Neill, and his employers, will have to face.

1 In the 103 days (yes, it’s been that long) since the FAI announced that they had agreed a new two-year deal with Martin O’Neill, why was that contract never signed?

This is one of the biggest puzzles of all, and the matter which set off the whole Stoke crisis, as that club’s eagerness to hire O’Neill may not have been so.

Did the FAI make an attempt, or attempts, to get O’Neill to formally sign that contract? If not, why not? And if they tried, but were unable to get O’Neill to put pen to paper, what was his explanation for refusing to sign?

O’Neill was offered, and declared his intention to sign, that new deal at a time when he was under pressure, heading into the double header against Moldova and Wales.

Moldova were indeed swatted away in Dublin, with ease, but everything was riding on the game in Cardiff, as failure to win would have seen Ireland miss out on the play-offs.

Once Wales were beaten, O’Neill’s stock rose as the team headed into the play-offs. But the contract remained unsigned.

2 Will Martin O’Neill confirm publicly (or deny) that he did meet with representatives of Stoke City FC?

And did O’Neill himself, or his representatives, meet with or speak to representatives of Everton before they appointed Sam Allardyce in November?

O’Neill has a track record for suing media outlets who made what he claimed were inaccurate claims about contract talks in his previous jobs.

But while it’s been widely reported that O’Neill (or people acting on his behalf) spoke to Everton in November and Stoke in January, media outlets which mentioned the Everton/Stoke talks have not yet received a complaint from O’Neill.

A UK media outlet, which appears to have the ear of O’Neill, claimed on Sunday night, when confirming that he was staying with Ireland and snubbing Stoke, that “one of the key reason for O’Neill’s decision was that he did not want to break the verbal agreement he had given the Football Association of Ireland when he was offered a new two-year contract back in October”.

If he also spoke to Everton, how can this statement be relevant?

3 What is the current contractual position of O’Neill and his backroom team?

Tradition dictates that the contract of an international manager expires when that campaign ends, be that in the qualifiers or finals.

Have O’Neill and his team (Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill, Seamus McDonagh, Steve Walford and Steve Guppy) been paid by the FAI in the nine weeks since the Denmark game? If so, what work have they been doing for the FAI since then?

4 What happens if another Premier League club comes calling in the weeks ahead?

We’re told that O’Neill is committed to Ireland and the signing of a new deal is only a matter of time.

But he was interested in taking the Stoke job (possibly Everton too).

If a club like Southampton axe their manager in the short-term and they see O’Neill as a good fit, what happens if there is any approach?

What will he say, would he speak to any interested parties?

5 Martin O’Neill was reportedly “excited” about the prospect of blooding a young team in 2018.


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