Tuesday 11 December 2018

Martin O'Neill latest: FAI lose control as waiting game continues

Manager's future up in air as Stoke wait on verdict of Sanchez Flores

The future of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane as the Ireland management team remains unclear with speculation linking both with a move to Stoke City. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The future of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane as the Ireland management team remains unclear with speculation linking both with a move to Stoke City. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI's control of Martin O'Neill is out of their hands as they wait on Stoke City to reach a final decision on their choice of a new manager.

And O'Neill is in limbo too after strong indications that Stoke are ready to give the job to Espanyol boss Quique Sánchez Flores if he chooses to accept it.

A delegation from the club met the former Watford manager in Barcelona and he was considering his options after last night's Copa Del Rey win away to Levante. He batted away questions on his future afterwards, without issuing a denial.

"I do not want to talk about me on such a big day for the club," said Sánchez Flores, who had expressed concerns about Espanyol's direction. "You know I have been frustrated sometimes. But today is a happy day."

The push for Flores would leave O'Neill as the Plan B, although Stoke chairman Peter Coates remains a fan of the Irish boss. His son, John, is believed to be pushing for the Spaniard.

However, it's believed that the Ireland manager would be seeking a longer-term deal whereas initial discussions with Stoke hinted at a short-term arrangement until the end of the season.

Former Ireland player Richard Dunne last night said confusion around O'Neill's position was "a mess."

O’Neill would reject a stopgap contract offer from Stoke and a job share with Ireland is not a viable option.

His mood could also be swayed by reports Stoke are prepared to offer Sanchez Flores a five-year contract worth £3.5m (€3.95m).

The FAI were confident earlier this week that O’Neill would be staying on to honour the verbal agreement he made to remain in control for the Euro 2020 campaign.

But it’s understood that the mood in Abbotstown had changed yesterday with some staff bracing themselves for O’Neill’s departure.

Vulnerable

The FAI’s loose arrangement with the 65-year-old and his assistant Roy Keane left them in a position where they were vulnerable to offers from outside.

Even if Stoke go with Sanchez Flores, the episode has shone a light on O’Neill’s willingness to consider alternative opportunities while his contract remains unsigned. And Dunne last night told Newstalk’s ‘Off The Ball’ that it raised serious questions about the Irish set-up.

“There doesn’t seem to be any sort of leadership at the moment,” he said. “Nobody knows if he’s coming or going.

“It’s a difficult one for him to come back into. If he’s set his mind out that he wants to get another job, are the FAI happy to play second fiddle?

“They will have to have some strong conversations to sort it out because it looks like a bit of a mess – it doesn’t give you confidence.

“They need to come out and say something and either sign a contract or go their separate ways. If there’s no contract signed then he’s entitled to go look at other jobs. The FAI should have dealt with it before this.”

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