Belfast Telegraph

Inspirational leader well worth paying the big bucks for

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill has a head for figures. The Northern Ireland boss has a degree in maths and statistics. He worked as a financial consultant and his shrewd dad Des was a tax inspector.

So when it came to negotiating a new £2million deal with the Irish FA, O'Neill knew what he wanted.

The first requirement was a four-year contract rather than the two-year extensions normally handed out to Northern Ireland managers.

The second was a fair salary - not outlandish, just fair.

Taking Northern Ireland to their first major tournament in 30 years, O'Neill started talks with IFA bigwigs last year in the strongest position possible.

The IFA were always going to offer him a new deal once qualification for Euro 2016 was secured, but many in the Association felt it would be a straightforward two-year package.

Showing the vision that guided the Northern Ireland side to France, O'Neill stressed that a longer term strategy would be required.

Of course he was thinking of having some security in what is a cut-throat profession but more so the time that may be needed for Northern Ireland to qualify for another tournament.

In the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, O'Neill is likely to be without Gareth McAuley, Chris Baird, Roy Carroll and Aaron Hughes, who are all tipped to retire after the Euro finals in France, therefore new faces will come into the squad.

The transition won't happen overnight. It may take a couple of years to build the next successful team - potentially not soon enough to qualify for the World Cup but perfectly timed to have a real shot at reaching the 2020 Euro finals.

O'Neill will have weighed this up when putting his case for four more years.

Whether he sees them out is another thing because clubs will come calling for this inspirational character. Make no mistake about that.

When clubs speak to the IFA, they will be told that O'Neill's four-year deal is worth £500,000 per annum and it will cost £750,000 in compensation to prise him away. Half a million a year is some sum, yet in comparison to other international bosses, such as the Republic of Ireland's Martin O'Neill said to be on a salary of around £1million, he remains a poor relation.

O'Neill, though, feels the new terms are fair and that's what counts. For what he has given Northern Ireland football and the country as a whole, he deserves to feel rewarded.

If he is tempted to depart after Euro 2016, at least the IFA will be well compensated and if he stays, Northern Ireland keep an excellent manager.

Belfast Telegraph