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Stoke players unaware Michael O'Neill had coronavirus ahead of Manchester United game


Recovering: Michael O’Neill

Recovering: Michael O’Neill


Recovering: Michael O’Neill

Stoke City's players were unaware that their boss, former Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, had tested positive for Covid-19 before they were due to play Manchester United, it has emerged.

O'Neill was preparing for a friendly against the Red Devils on Tuesday ahead of English football's return on June 17 following the lockdown.

Stoke confirmed the news after the Championship outfit cancelled the fixture at United's Carrington training base on short notice. It is understood the match was supposed to take place at 10am.

Each Stoke City player travelled on their own by car. O'Neill did not travel.

As the players prepared for the game the club's Covid results came through from the English Football League - there is routine testing of all EFL staff and players - and they were told to get changed again and return home, have the day off yesterday and come back into training today.

Stoke City said: "O'Neill had tested negative in the previous five rounds of testing.

"He will now follow the relevant guidance and undergo a period of isolation, whilst continuing to be in regular virtual contact with his coaching staff and players.

"Assistant manager Billy McKinlay will take charge of training as the Potters prepare for their game against Reading on June 20.

"The club will be making no further comment on this matter."

O'Neill (50) was hugely successful in his role as Northern Ireland boss after guiding them to the Euro 2016 finals in France, a first appearance at a major tournament in 30 years.

He quit the role in April.

Get well soon messages were sent to O'Neill as the Northern Ireland team's social media pages wished him a speedy recovery.

Sports commentators Stephen Watson and Liam Beckett both passed on their best wishes as O'Neill aims to get back to full health as soon as possible.

Fans also voiced their support.

"Late to the party, but I obviously wish the very best to Michael O'Neill following the news about his positive test. I'm delighted he currently seems healthy," tweeted Ben Rowley.

"This is more than Stoke's start maybe being delayed, this is our manager's health and wellbeing. We'll be with you."

Meanwhile, Irish League club Glentoran posted a picture of their former player, also wishing him a full recovery.

Two weeks ago another high profile manager from Northern Ireland, Brendan Rodgers, revealed that both he and wife Charlotte had contracted coronavirus.

The Leicester City boss described suffering a headache unlike any he had felt before, losing his sense of smell and taste and enduring breathing difficulties similar to the altitude problems he encountered when climbing Kilimanjaro in 2016.

Rodgers is the second Premier League manager after Arsenal's Mikel Arteta known to have caught the virus.

The 47-year-old from Carnlough said he had symptoms in March.

He added: "I wasn't well and it was later detected I had the virus. A week after that my wife had it.

"We were nowhere near as bad as a lot of people but we lost our smell and taste for three weeks, we lost our strength, so I had a little feeling of whatever it must be like. It was tough."

Belfast Telegraph