Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: I'm open to staying with Northern Ireland for 2018 World Cup campaign

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill has revealed for the first time that he would be 'open' to staying on as Northern Ireland manager for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

O'Neill is normally loathe to speak about his future beyond the Euro 2016 qualifiers but in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph he has stated he is loving the job at present and would welcome talks with the Irish FA later this year about moving forward.

O'Neill's current contract runs to the end of the Euro 2016 group games. Should Northern Ireland qualify, a deal will be struck for him to take charge of the team in next year's finals in France.

What happens after that will be intriguing. Success with Northern Ireland will create interest in O'Neill from English and Scottish clubs while the IFA would be keen for him to carry on his excellent work that has transformed the national team's football fortunes.

Ahead of tomorrow's 2018 World Cup draw in Russia, O'Neill said: "Hopefully we can make the Euro finals and I would be in charge for that. Then there would be a very short window to go from the Euro 2016 finals to the World Cup qualifiers which start in September.

"The IFA and myself would want to know we are both moving forward and I'm very open to that.

"I am enjoying the job and would be happy to stay on but a lot of that will be determined by what happens in the rest of the Euro campaign. I would add that I'm not actively trying to get something else."

When asked for his views on O'Neill, IFA President Jim Shaw made it clear he would like the current boss to stay on.

No surprise there. Even when O'Neill was going through a tough time in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, losing away to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, Shaw backed his man every step of the way.

"I certainly hope that Michael O'Neill will still be our manager when the World Cup campaign begins. He has done a good job and you like to keep someone who does a good job," said Shaw.

Come what may, Euro 2016 qualification or not, expect talks between O'Neill and the IFA to take place in October or November.

O'Neill is well aware that his current strongest XI could dramatically change by the time the World Cup qualifiers come along in 14 months' time.

Key players like Roy Carroll, Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and Chris Brunt may retire from the international stage once their Euro 2016 duties are over.

The good news is that O'Neill relishes working with young players and would be up for the challenge of building what would essentially be a new team.

"When you look at the World Cup and qualification we are possibly going to lose five players depending on their situations at the end of this campaign," said O'Neill.

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

"Our Qatar friendly in Crewe before we played Romania at Windsor in June in the Euro qualifiers was an interesting one because I started to see what the team may look like in 18 months as we didn't have quite a few of our senior players there for that match.

"It was a much younger team that started other than Aaron Hughes, who played.

"We had Conor McLaughlin, Craig Cathcart, Daniel Lafferty, Paddy McNair, Oliver Norwood, Corry Evans, Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas and Will Grigg so that could be the crux of what lies ahead obviously throwing in big players like Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and Kyle Lafferty.

"It takes time for teams to develop. We have to build bit by bit to find players who can step up to that level and Paddy McNair is one that has come along. He is a good example of that.

"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.

"We have an exciting young striker at Everton now, Shayne Lavery.

"I have watched him in our under-17s and if he can progress I could easily be picking him in a couple of years."

Belfast Telegraph