Belfast Telegraph

Tributes for departing NI boss O'Neill as he faces his first day in Stoke City dugout

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Michael O'Neill will take charge of Stoke City for the first time today after confirming he was stepping down as Northern Ireland manager.

The 50-year-old will be in the dugout for his new club's clash at Barnsley this afternoon.

But it isn't quite the end for O'Neill and Northern Ireland - he will manage the team for the last two Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Germany later this month.

And if, as expected, Northern Ireland make the play-offs, he will also take charge.

It is understood that, should we qualify for Euro 2020, O'Neill would then lead the team at the finals.

As news of his move to Stoke was confirmed yesterday, there was an outpouring of affection from inside and outside football.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "Michael O'Neill encouraged people from across Northern Ireland to feel proud and passionate about our national football team.

"Thank you for the legacy you leave and I wish you well in this new chapter of your career.

"An end of an era but the memory of Euro 2016 will live long into the memory."

Radio broadcaster Colin Murray said: "All good things must come to an end... but it was more than good. It was great. It was special. It was making memories that will last a lifetime, and without Michael O'Neill it simply wouldn't have happened.

"I wish him every success and more. Wonderful man."

O'Neill was appointed by the Irish FA in December 2011, and led Northern Ireland to the last 16 of the Euros in France - our first major tournament for 30 years.

He also took us to within a play-off of qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

However, he always had ambitions of a return to club management and has opted for Stoke, who are bottom of the Championship.

He met with the players yesterday morning and took training, and will travel with the team for today's game at Barnsley.

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "We reluctantly agreed to allow Stoke to talk to Michael after they met the compensation requirements. Michael has now agreed terms with the EFL Championship club.

"Naturally, we are extremely disappointed that Michael is leaving us, however, we are delighted all parties have agreed Michael will be in charge of the Northern Ireland team for the games against the Netherlands and Germany and potential Euro 2020 play-off matches next March."

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