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It's sacking season... and that means fears for Northern Ireland support over Michael O'Neill's future

By Steven Beacom

Published 04/10/2016

Hot property: Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill
Hot property: Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill was one of the most talked about managers in Euro 2016.

And no wonder after he inspired Northern Ireland to reach the knockout stages of the tournament in France.

As the Green and White Army left Paris behind following an unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Wales in the last 16, one of the topics of discussion among the supporters was how long the Irish Football Association would be able to hold on to the boss.

A few months on it's so far so good with O'Neill still comfortable in the Northern Ireland hotseat.

Over October and November, though, there is every chance that club owners and chairmen in England will be looking at the 47-year-old and considering whether to make a move.

This month and next month is traditionally the period when the big hitters in the boardroom become trigger happy.

Managers are shoved out of the exit door quicker than Lord Sugar can say 'You're fired!'

Yesterday was a case in point.

In the Premier League Swansea City sacked Francesco Guidolin and replaced him with former USA manager Bob Bradley, while in the Championship Roberto Di Matteo was ditched by Aston Villa.

Swansea have played seven league games this season and are fourth bottom in the top flight. Villa are in 19th in their division after 11 matches.

Guidolin and Di Matteo wanted more time.

They were never going to get it. Such is modern day football.

That lack of job stability is one of the reasons why O'Neill would carefully consider any move into the club scene if the opportunity came along.

While Swansea have moved sharply to fill Guidolin's desk, Steve Bruce is the early favourite to take over from Di Matteo, who once upon a time led Chelsea to Champions League glory, a feat which was beyond Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

Intriguingly, Michael O'Neill's name is well down the betting list for the Villa job, but if the Midlands club do their research properly the Ballymena man should at be least be part of their conversation.

As the Belfast Telegraph reported earlier this year, Celtic were extremely keen on O'Neill as Ronny Deila floundered last season, so if he is good enough to be in the reckoning for the Glasgow giants, he should be in the mix for the vacant post at Villa Park.

Ultimately the Hoops opted for Brendan Rodgers, who once told me that O'Neill had the qualities to manage in the Premier League let alone the Championship.

Respected by other managers, O'Neill has a good name inside the game and that reputation will be enhanced further should he lift Northern Ireland to a shock result against Germany next week.

Achieve a draw or a miracle victory away to the World Champions and O'Neill will be flavour of the month.

And with managerial vacancies certain to become available over the next eight weeks, that is when the IFA will be expecting a call.

Should it come, the Association would inform interested parties they would have to pay £750,000 in compensation - a clause in O'Neill's four year deal, negotiated prior to the Euro finals.

A key factor in all of this would be O'Neill himself.

Ahead of a World Cup qualifying double header at home to San Marino on Saturday and in Germany, he is content in his current role and said at a fundraiser for the NI Hospice last week that he was "in no hurry to move on".

Taking his country to a second major tournament appeals to O'Neill, but there is no doubt, given his qualities, he will end up in club football at some stage in the future. Northern Ireland fans, fearful of losing the man who took them to France, will hope that day comes later rather than sooner.

Belfast Telegraph

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