Wednesday 19 December 2018

Martin O'Neill on radar as Stoke eye new boss following Mark Hughes' sacking

Martin O'Neill set to continue as Ireland boss. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill set to continue as Ireland boss. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Stoke officials will contemplate an approach for Martin O'Neill when they sit down today to compose a shortlist of potential replacements for Mark Hughes.

The Ireland manager is in the frame after an abject FA Cup defeat to League Two side Coventry sealed the fate of the under-pressure Stoke supremo.

O'Neill is on good terms with Stoke chairman Peter Coates and the added attraction of the Derryman could be the option to bring him in to steady the ship until the end of the season.

That would be the alternative to offering him the gig on a longer term basis.

Ireland's only date in the diary in that window is March's friendly in Turkey, which is preceded by a short training camp in Antalya.

The other candidate that is certain to be on the shortlist is Derby County manager Gary Rowett, who would have to be recruited with a view to a permanent deal - and his current club would be entitled to compensation.

Mark Hughes was sacked by Stoke City after their FA Cup defeat to Coventry yesterday. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Mark Hughes was sacked by Stoke City after their FA Cup defeat to Coventry yesterday. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

O'Neill has agreed to stay on as Ireland manager for the Euro 2020 campaign, but the announcement was made before he put pen to paper or thrashed out terms.

The FAI have been relaxed about that position - the arrangement was similarly loose before he penned his World Cup 2018 contract after the opening qualifier in Serbia - but it does make life easier for potential suitors.

O'Neill was recently linked with the vacant managerial post at Everton, yet the root of that speculation appeared to be the bookmaker markets rather than genuine interest.

The Stoke connection is more plausible because of indications they want a British or Irish manager with Premier League know-how, and the healthy relationship between O'Neill and Coates - the latter's regard for the 65-year-old was cited when he was floated as a contender for the Stoke job shortly after his exit from Sunderland in 2013.

However, Stoke were willing to delay pulling the trigger on Hughes because they had not identified an outstanding candidate to replace him.

The manner of the loss to Coventry forced their hand, but that would indicate they are not convinced about the available options and might wait to see what emerges from the woodwork now the post is free.

They have a week until their next match, which is an away date with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

O'Neill is due in Dublin this week for Friday's Airtricity/Soccer Writers' Association of Ireland annual banquet - an event he is provisionally scheduled to attend with his backroom staff.

The Derryman has also been in discussions with the FAI about the itinerary for 2018 and is also pencilled in to travel to Switzerland later this month for the UEFA Nations League draw, the competition that will provide Ireland's only competitive matches in 2017.

There is no suggestion that O'Neill is unhappy in his current role and the FAI are confident that he will be around for the Euro 2020 campaign.

They are accustomed to O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane getting mentioned in relation to every position that comes up, but that is inevitable with the contractual position and the long wait for another competitive game.

Michael O'Neill has also been mentioned as a long-shot candidate for the Stoke gig, with his diary also free after Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off disappointment, although his lack of top-flight experience would count against him.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss appeared to be the ideal candidate to take over as Scotland manager, but weekend reports in Northern Ireland say he is unimpressed with the speed of that process and is now angling towards extending his deal with the IFA - that is if he chooses to stay in the international sphere.

If the FAI hold on to their man, one of his most pressing jobs will be to cement Declan Rice's place in the senior squad for the road ahead. The versatile teen has impressed for West Ham and is expected to get the call for the Turkish trip.

At this stage the 18-year-old has the world at his feet, but he has opened up on the disappointment of his release from his boyhood club Chelsea when he was just 14.

"When Chelsea let me go it was really deflating. For me, as a youngster, it's all I ever knew - living 10 minutes from the training ground, going to loads of the games," said Rice, who quickly found an alternative.

"I remember it, a Tuesday night. On the Wednesday I was training with Fulham, five minutes from my house, and then on the Thursday I was training with West Ham.

"After one session at both clubs they both wanted me. There was interest from other clubs as well, but I made the switch to West Ham.

"I had to change house, change school, so it was a massive decision - and it's paid off. It's one of those where you've just got to pick yourself up and go again. I think some of the boys at Chelsea might be thinking 'wow, look at Dec doing well for West Ham'."

Rice was involved in yesterday's cup draw at Shrewsbury along with Irish U-21 colleague Josh Cullen, who has returned from an underwhelming loan spell at Bolton.

Irish Independent

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