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Wednesday 25 May 2016

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Celtic weighs up move for Northern Ireland boss O'Neill after Euro 2016

By Steven Beacom

Published 02/02/2016

Give us a lift: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill is given the bumps by his jubilant players
Give us a lift: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill is given the bumps by his jubilant players

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will be a candidate to take over at Celtic in the summer if, as expected, Ronny Deila departs Parkhead.

Defeat on Sunday to Ross County in the Scottish League Cup semi-final has piled the pressure on Deila, who was desperate to win the domestic treble this season after failing to lead the Hoops to the lucrative Champions League group stages for the second campaign in succession.

There is growing frustration in the Celtic boardroom with results under Deila and an increasing number of supporters believe he is not the man to take the club forward.

Deila, for his part, insisted after the 3-1 loss to Ross County that he was 'not worried' when asked if he was concerned about getting the sack.

It is likely that he will remain until May, by which time Celtic will have hoped to have won the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup double.

They are six points clear at the top of the table and face a fifth round Scottish Cup tie away to East Kilbride on Sunday.

Deila was a shock choice to replace Neil Lennon as boss in 2014. In his first season at Parkhead he won the title and League Cup, though with Glasgow rivals Rangers not in the top flight those successes were regarded as the least the Norwegian should be achieving.

Others will be in the frame to replace Deila, and big names such as Roy Keane and David Moyes, who both played for Celtic, have been mentioned but Northern Ireland boss O'Neill has his admirers amongst Celtic's hierarchy.

They are not alone. Chairmen and directors at clubs across England and Scotland have been impressed by O'Neill's Midas touch with Northern Ireland. He has inspired the team to qualify for the European Championships for the first time in the nation's history and will go to the finals in France this year with his reputation at an all time high.

Should he take Northern Ireland into the knockout stages of the tournament, there will be even more interest in the 46-year-old.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last year that O'Neill would sign a new four-year contract with the Irish FA which would include clauses allowing him to talk to interested clubs and provide the Association with a hefty compensation package should he move on.

O'Neill told this newspaper just before Christmas: "It has to be right for me and for the Association. It's just about making sure that both parties get what they want and that there's protection on both sides."

In the same interview, O'Neill was honest enough to admit he would consider offers from clubs after the Euro 2016 finals but added that he does not intend to rush back into club management at the first opportunity.

He said: "While I would look at those if and when they came along, they're not something that I'm actively seeking. I'm not out there saying to an agent 'You need to get me a club job now'. If it comes along and presents itself, I would evaluate it.

"It's not just a case of 'there's a club job, there's the salary, go and take it'.

"For me, it's more about what is the stability of the club? What's the structure of the club? What's the chances of you having some level of success at the club?'"

O'Neill is a shrewd character and should Celtic make a move he will take his time to weigh it up.

A source close to the club said: "Michael is highly regarded in Scotland and would be in the frame if the job became available."

He is enjoying managing Northern Ireland and would relish the challenge of rebuilding the team for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign after the inevitable international retirements following Euro 2016.

But club football also appeals and Northern Ireland fans are clever enough to know offers will come his way. If one arrives from Celtic, he would talk to ex-Northern Ireland midfielders and previous bosses at Parkhead, Martin O'Neill and Lennon for their thoughts and advice.

Living in Edinburgh, he is a regular at Scottish games and knows the scene and players inside out and has shown that even without world class players he can gain big results.

At Shamrock Rovers, he also delivered a miracle in European football terms, creating history by taking the League of Ireland side into the Europa League group stages.

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