Belfast Telegraph

Give Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill the deal he really wants

Irish FA need to put their money where their mouth is

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and his new contract.

It's a story that is so old it has hair coming out of its ears!

The latest chapter concluded at the weekend with Irish FA President Jim Shaw suggesting a new two-year deal was on the cards and O'Neill responding in a radio interview by saying he would prefer double that.

Déjà vu.

Back in July, Shaw made it clear in the Belfast Telegraph that the plan was to tie O'Neill up for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

That same month O'Neill revealed to me that he was open to staying on, adding that his ideal scenario would be to see a longer term plan put in place whereby any agreement would go on until the Euro 2020 programme.

He stated: "I am enjoying the job and would be happy to stay on.

"The World Cup for us, though, may well be a building process towards the next European Championship qualifying campaign.

"It takes time for teams to develop. We have to build bit by bit to find players who can step up to senior international level.

"The good thing for me is that I know all the young lads who would hopefully come through and be looking to make it into the senior squad in the next few years.

"I have worked with the Under-17s and Under-19s. That is one of the parts of the job that I enjoy, seeing young players develop."

What we need now is for this story to have a happy ending with Northern Ireland qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals and O'Neill to get what he wants.

That's how this should play out. What has made the ongoing tale perplexing for Northern Ireland fans is that high-ranking IFA officials decided a YEAR ago that O'Neill was worth an extension to his existing contract.

When Northern Ireland defeated Greece in Athens in October 2014 to record their third victory in a row at the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the suits made up their minds that they wanted to keep O'Neill.

It's worth noting this was 12 months on from when some of them wanted him out after an extremely disappointing World Cup campaign in which Northern Ireland lost in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan en route to finishing a lowly fifth in their group.

While certain IFA officials felt O'Neill was out of his depth, President Shaw was strong enough to insist that the 46-year-old had the qualities to take the team forward.

He could see the fine work O'Neill was doing behind the scenes and the relationships he was forging with players which could bear fruit in the future. How right he was.

With eight games gone in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Northern Ireland are top of Group F and need a minimum of two points from their remaining two matches to make it to France.

What O'Neill has achieved to date has been staggering and I have no doubt that he and his inspired players will finish the job.

Once qualification is assured, the IFA are primed for a windfall of at least £8million, the biggest ever for the Association, due to prize money from Uefa, potential shirt sales and gate receipts.

That's what O'Neill and his heroic team will be bringing into Northern Ireland football, so you would like to think the governing body here could afford to hand the manager a four-year deal and an improved contract to the £250,000 per year salary he currently receives.

In his first interview after becoming the new IFA chairman, Gerry Mallon told the Belfast Telegraph: "Michael has done a fantastic job. Our intention is likely to be that we will ask Michael to stay. What we can try to do is to seek to try and support him and make his job easier and his life easier by giving him what he needs to make it work."

Let's do it then. Time for the IFA, who paid O'Neill's predecessor £500,000 per year, to put their money where their mouth is. How they conduct the contract negotiations after the Euro qualifiers may go a long way to deciding how O'Neill treats them in the future.

Already he is a wanted man on the club scene. Dundee United would love him but they know they have no chance as he wants to take Northern Ireland to the Euro finals.

Clubs in England are also keeping a close eye on O'Neill. There is bemusement in football circles across the water that the IFA have not moved to tie him down already.

When the deal between manager and employers is discussed, expect a clause, which should benefit both parties, to be included for when a club comes calling for the Northern Ireland boss.

Rest assured they will call.

Four more years. It's not just what O'Neill's what he deserves.

Belfast Telegraph