Monday 22 July 2019

Northern Ireland will battle hard to keep Michael O'Neill as West Brom plan talks

Michael O’Neill has managed Northern Ireland since 2011 (Niall Carson/PA)
Michael O’Neill has managed Northern Ireland since 2011 (Niall Carson/PA)

Steven Beacom

Top Irish FA officials are priming themselves for another fight to keep Michael O'Neill with West Bromwich Albion keen to talk to the Northern Ireland boss about their vacant manager's job.

The Championship outfit have placed O'Neill on their shortlist and are planning to make official contact with the IFA this week over permission to speak to him.

It is not the first time the 49-year-old has been courted, though with Northern Ireland set to play two crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers away to Estonia and Belarus early next month the timing of this pursuit is far from ideal.

Early last year IFA president David Martin and chief executive Patrick Nelson pulled off a masterstroke to overcome the advances of the Scottish FA towards O'Neill by offering him a lucrative contract extension shortly after Northern Ireland's heart-breaking World Cup play-off defeat to Switzerland.

Impressed by that loyalty and the mega £750,000 per year deal through to 2024, O'Neill stayed put rather than take charge of the Scots.

It is understood the IFA would like to see that loyalty repaid, especially in the middle of a Euro campaign which started with two wins out of two at home to Estonia and Belarus.

They want O'Neill to stay and will battle hard to ensure that happens.

O'Neill was appointed international boss in December 2011 and has transformed Northern Ireland's fortunes, taking the team to the Euro 2016 finals, leading to links with Celtic, Southampton, Leicester, Norwich and Sunderland. Eighteen months ago he held talks with WBA when they were a top flight club but the Baggies chose Alan Pardew instead. Since then, Albion, who have had 11 managers in the last seven years, have been on a downward spiral.

Ahead of the Euro qualifiers in June, O'Neill is preparing with 20 players this week in a three-day training camp in Manchester. He will hold another camp with an increased list next week.

By then West Brom hope to have held talks with O'Neill. There could also be interest over the summer from elsewhere.

O'Neill had discussions with Celtic in 2016 about their post and could be on the radar again after Saturday's Scottish Cup final against Hearts.

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