Sunday 25 February 2018

Surprise snub by O'Neill leaves Stoke in managerial limbo

Stoke chairman Peter Coates wants a cap on payments to agents
Stoke chairman Peter Coates wants a cap on payments to agents

Luke Edwards

Martin O'Neill turned down the chance to become the new manager of Stoke City after a difficult weekend of negotiations with the Premier League club.

Stoke, who are third from bottom of the table, have worked tirelessly over the last 72 hours to try persuade the 65-year-old to end his four-year reign as the Republic of Ireland manager and appeared to have secured chairman Peter Coates' first-choice target.

But O'Neill has instead decided to remain in his role with Ireland, despite being flattered by Stoke's interest. It is also understood he has also rejected the offer of a pay rise in order to continue in international football and will hope he can now get on with that job free from distractions.

It's understood 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 FAI when he was offered a new two-year contract back in October before the conclusion of Ireland's World Cup campaign

Stoke are believed to have been shocked by O'Neill's rejection and now face a difficult search for a new manager.

The Midlands club - who are deep in an unexpected relegation battle - have already seen another target, former Watford manager Quique Sánchez Flores, decide to remain in Spain, despite also approaching him to see if he would like the job last week.

Another target, Gary Rowett, signed a new contract with Derby County last week following interest from Stoke and questions will now be asked about the way the sacking of Mark Hughes was handled, in particular the timing, when they did not have a replacement lined up.

Worryingly, Coates had identified O'Neill as his preferred candidate immediately after sacking Hughes last weekend, but the fact they were openly speaking to other managers is unlikely to have impressed O'Neill.

The Derryman had made up his mind on Friday that he was staying with Ireland, only for Stoke to make renewed efforts to tempt him away on Saturday.

The Potters may have been unable to offer O'Neill a long enough deal to give him any real job security at the Bet365 Stadium, as they had initially suggested they were looking to make a short-term appointment.

Although O'Neill has been criticised for his handling of the affair, he has been open with the FAI throughout the whole saga, in particular chief executive John Delaney, and is expected to address the situation when he next speaks to the media.

Significantly, his assistant, Roy Keane, has played a key role in helping to persuade O'Neill to continue in his current role and is said to be bullish about the future as they prepare for the start of the Uefa Nations League campaign later this year,

O'Neill, who failed to secure Ireland a place in the World Cup in Russia after a play-off defeat by Denmark back in November, has delayed signing his new contract after he was stung by the level of criticism that followed that near miss.

Despite the disappointing end, he is confident he can lead the team to European Championship qualification in 2020. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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