O'Neill in a one-horse race
FAI's top choice in line for early call
Martin O'Neill is believed to be the unanimous choice of the FAI's Board of Management to succeed Giovanni Trapattoni and he could be appointed Ireland manager this week.
The board is due to meet early this week and while they will be expected to approve the pursuit of O'Neill, they will also be informed of other candidates in the race which now include former Valencia and Inter Milan coach Hector Cuper. His British-based agent, Stephen Morris, confirmed to the Sunday Independent yesterday that the Argentinian was keen to become Ireland manager.
"Hector is extremely interested in the job," Morris said. "If he was appointed he would move to Liverpool where our agency is based and he would attend matches from there."
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Cuper's grandparents are believed to have been Irish and he speaks good English. He won five caps for Argentina and made his name as a coach at Mallorca where he reached the Cup Winners' Cup final before he moved to Valencia and reached the Champions League final in successive seasons, losing to Real Madrid in 2000 and then in a penalty shootout to Bayern Munich a year later.
He moved on to Inter where he finished second and third in Serie A, missing out on the league title on the final day of his first season by two points when they lost on the final day. The following year he reached the Champions League semi-final before losing to Milan. Cuper was dismissed in 2003 and he has struggled to make the same impact in management since.
Interestingly, he was manager of Georgia when Trapattoni's Ireland faced them in World Cup qualifiers in 2008 and 2009 but he left without winning a single game. His last job with Turkish side Orduspor ended earlier this year.
Cuper is described as a "football obsessive" and is said to be very keen to do the job, and the FAI are aware of his interest.
His entrance into the race indicates that there is a broader demand for the job than the names initially mentioned but the FAI will only widen their search if O'Neill is not interested and decides he would prefer a return to club management.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, FAI chief executive John Delaney dismissed the suggestion that his turbulent relationship with Roy Keane would prevent the former Ireland captain being considered. "The past is the past. We move on," Delaney said.
While Keane, Cuper and others will be considered, O'Neill is the only candidate who could be appointed in time for the Germany game. The FAI are hopeful he would get a reaction from the players which would ensure a healthy attendance for the home game against Kazakhstan.
In the unlikely event that O'Neill is not appointed, the FAI would then begin a process which would involve a thorough search across the world, boosted by Denis O'Brien's support. Cuper's entry into the race indicates that they could attract candidates of a high calibre if they were seeking an alternative to O'Neill.
Some within the FAI are surprised at the pace at which events moved last week. Once Trapattoni departed, O'Neill was always the preferred candidate.
Initially, it was seen as preferable but unlikely that he would take the job before the game in Cologne, but now it is considered probable that he will be appointed in time for the final two matches in the group next month.