Sunday 21 January 2018

Leicester looking to speak to Martin O'Neill as betting on next Foxes manager is suspended

Martin O'Neill is odds on for the Leicester job
Martin O'Neill is odds on for the Leicester job

John Fallon

Fourth in their Euro group, seeping cash from a €51m debt, mixed club fortunes in Europe and now their manager possibly deserting them - what more can go wrong for the FAI?

The confirmation today of William Hill suspending betting on Martin O’Neill accepting the vacancy at Leicester City, along with other betting firms reporting him as clear favourites, is a headache the association could do without.

Sky Sports are now reporting that Leicester are interested in speaking to Martin O'Neill over vacant manager's position.

The Guardian say a source has told them that the FAI would not stand in O’Neill’s way if he wants to vacate his contract early but there has been no official comment yet.

O’Neill is due to be paraded in Sligo next week as part of the FAI’s Festival of Football, a showcase for all that is good about Irish football, anti-climaxing at the usually mundane annual general meeting on Saturday week.

With the Derryman reportedly on the verge of returning to the club he made his managerial name at in the last 1990s, the good folk in the north-west must be wondering if the schedule of the special guest is to be revised.

UK betting firm William Hill explained that O’Neill started Friday at 10/1 only for him to be backed all the way into 1/4 by the time the market was suspended at 11:35am.

That policy decision came after some large four figure bets were placed at that price.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (left) and assistant Roy Keane
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (left) and assistant Roy Keane

Other leading betting companies such as Skybet and Paddy Power have the Ireland boss as clear favourites to fill the vacancy caused by the sacking of Nigel Pearson last month.

“There are some people out there who seem convinced that O’Neill is very close to getting the job if he hasn’t accepted the role already,” said William hill spokesman Joe Crilly.

A betting insider told "We received many significant four-figure sums on Martin O'Neill to get the Leicester job in the London area. This is very unusual because punters normally place small bets on next manager markets.

"We are also aware that other bookmakers took big bets too.

"To receive one four-figure bet is unusual, to receive several is highly unusual. The last time something like this happened was when David Moyes got the Manchester United job and we were stung then."  

FAI chief executive John Delaney ruled out the prospect of job-sharing last year, claiming no-one could “do both jobs”. That stance lost credibility when O’Neill’s assistant Roy Keane opted to double-job as Aston Villa’s No 2, a position he lasted only five months in before quitting.

So, with just four games left in a campaign that badly needs improvement for ambitions of reaching France next year to be resurrected, could a compromise be reached allowing O’Neill assume both roles?

All of Ireland’s remaining games in September and October will take place during international windows, avoiding any clash with Foxes’ fixtures.

Given the Derryman has never hid his intention of returning to the Premier League carousel, he may feel this is his best opportunity.

A difficult final season at Sunderland, where he was hastily sacked in March 2013, coupled with this underwhelming sole campaign in the Ireland job could combine to dissuade other suitors from offering employment when his contract expires later this year.

O’Neill’s reputation amongst the Leicester fans, however, is bulletproof.

After spearheading their promotion to the top-flight in 1996, he won two League Cups before departing for his dream job at Celtic.

Leicester’s Thai owners Vichai and Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha have big ambitions for a club which battled back to avoid the drop last season. Their chief executive, Susan Whelan, is Irish-born.

The first-team returned to pre-season training with the first of their friendlies due on Tuesday week, July 21, against Lincoln City.

One of the club’s current staff, Kevin Phillips, is familiar with O’Neill having played under him at Aston Villa. Earlier this year, Phillips said he’d heard O’Neill regretted selling the veteran striker to West Brom.

As for Ireland, Keane would seem the logical choice to lead the team on the campaign run-in.

Though the Corkman has vowed to follow any manager he works under out the door, these circumstances are exceptional.

Keane, who has a burning desire to revert to his previous managerial role as ultimate decision-maker, would be encouraged by O’Neill to complete a job they pair began together in November 2013.

The only surprise would be that it's O'Neill, rather than Keane, being the one responsible for ditching the double-act.

The FAI were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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