Friday 18 October 2019

Fears over Martin O'Neill's Ireland future as new deal not signed

Failure to qualify for World Cup finals may see Ireland manager opt out of new contract

Martin O'Neill and Assistant Manager Roy Keane Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill and Assistant Manager Roy Keane Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane have yet to sign the new deal agreed with the FAI, prompting fears that the pair may yet decide to quit if Ireland fail to get past Denmark in the World Cup play-off next month.

And although the manager has agreed in principle to stay on for the UEFA Nations League and Euro 2020 campaigns, assistant manager Keane and his advisers have still to sit down and thrash out the details of any contract extension.

At the moment, there is no suggestion that the managerial duo, signed up four years ago next month, will not stay at the helm if Ireland beat Denmark and qualify for next summer's World Cup finals in Russia. And it took several months, after the Euro 2012 finals in France, before O'Neill and Keane put pen to paper on their current contract, which ends when this campaign does.

With no obvious successor in sight, CEO John Delaney and the FAI board will still be keen to keep the pair, but if Ireland should lose to Denmark, and there is a strong public backlash with the contract still unsigned, negotiations between the two parties could be strained enough to lead to an end to the current regime. The FAI, however, could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

O'Neill was linked to a return to former club Leicester City last week, following the sacking of manager Craig Shakespeare. Realistically, the job has come at the wrong time for O'Neill, who is preparing for the first leg of the World Cup play-off in Copenhagen on Saturday, November 11, and for the second leg in the Aviva Stadium three days later. World Cup finals participation would rule him out completely.

But the 65-year-old has never hidden his desire to return to club management, or at least to have the option at some stage in the future, and he knows there will be further managerial changes between now and the end of the year in the Premier League and the Championship.

Any further delay in putting his signature to a new deal with the FAI could give would-be employers the green light to approach O'Neill and his number two, with all his box-office credentials.

In the build-up to the final group qualifying game against Wales, Delaney was eager to confirm that O'Neill had agreed to stay on until the end of the Euro 2020 tournament.

O'Neill made the surprise announcement that he intends to stay beyond the conclusion of the World Cup campaign just days before Ireland's decisive victory over Wales in Cardiff. The news was then confirmed by the FAI on its Twitter account, but there was no reference to Keane or other members of the coaching staff from the Association. The statement read: "Martin O'Neill has agreed a contract extension and will continue as the Republic of Ireland manager for the Euro 2020 campaign!"

Later that day, the Ireland manager told the Association's website: "I spoke to John very recently and he said on behalf of the board, they would like to extend my contract for a couple of years, obviously with the Euros coming up, and I have agreed to do so. I am delighted, I have enjoyed it immensely.

"International football was something I didn't know whether I would get used to or not, but obviously qualification for the Euros in France made it all worthwhile and we are still in this competition. With some younger players coming through taking over the from the old guard through natural retirement, I think it is exciting times for us."

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