Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland supporters thank manager O’Neill for memories as he heads for exit

Exit door: Michael O’Neill
Exit door: Michael O’Neill
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Fans have thanked Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill for great footballing memories after reports his move to Stoke City has been agreed, with just compensation with the IFA to be sorted.

Some said it came as no surprise the Portadown-born manager would eventually depart, but felt the bottom-of-the-Championship Potters may not be the right fit.

Many said they would love to see O'Neill, who went to school in Ballymena, replicate his success with the international side at the club.

Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs, said he had brought huge success to Northern Ireland and fans did not want to see him leave.

"There is never a good time for this," he told the BBC.

Supporter Christopher Barry said: "He made dreams come true by getting wee Norn Iron to Euro 2016 and making a more than decent fist of it in France. For that alone we should be forever grateful to him."

As news broke of the imminent departure of the boss to league football, fans swarmed to the Belfast Telegraph's social media pages to give their reaction.

"Good appointment for Stoke massive loss for Northern Ireland," said Wayne Williams.

"We've made unforgettable memories... he is a legend."

Many fans described O'Neill as the best manager Northern Ireland had ever had and he will be missed by those on the terraces.

It is understood O'Neill has agreed a four-year deal with a £1.5m salary in principle with the club and all is left is for the IFA to agree on compensation.

It has been reported he will take charge of Northern Ireland's remaining Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Reports say he will be at Oakwell on Saturday for Stoke's game against Barnsley, who sit just above them in the table, but will return to Belfast for his last two games in charge of the national team.

Stoke were a mainstay in the Premier League until relegation in 2017-18 and have had three managers since in a bid to make a return to the top flight.

Paul Lambert left after four months in charge with the club relegated from the Premier League. Gary Rowett was then sacked less than eight months into a three-year contract and now Jones has been axed after only 10 months in charge.

They have won just two of their last 15 games in the league leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table and already six points from safety.

Speaking on Wednesday, O'Neill was asked about Stoke's interest. "It is always flattering. It is better to be linked than not linked, let's be honest," he said.

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