Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill will agree to four-year contract

O'Neill deal revealed

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will sign a new long-term contract with the Irish FA which will include a clause allowing him to talk to interested clubs after the Euro 2016 finals.

IFA officials and O'Neill are confident the four-year extension to his existing deal, on improved terms, will be finalised before Christmas or early in the New Year.

And written into the contract will be a stipulation on compensation for the IFA should O'Neill (pictured) move on to club management after the finals in France.

O'Neill, who has done an exceptional job in guiding Northern Ireland to the country's first major tournament in 30 years, is already being talked about at boardroom level at clubs across England and Scotland.

He has ambitions to be a club manager, with the Premier League the ultimate aim, but right now is committed to taking the team to next year's finals.

The IFA expect clubs to come calling after the Euro 2016 championships and are determined to be prepared.

O'Neill has had a positive preliminary meeting about his new contract with IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson. IFA President Jim Shaw and new Chairman Gerry Mallon will also be involved in upcoming talks.

The manager would prefer a four-year extension and the three big hitters from the IFA are shrewd enough to know his achievements warrant just that.

They will recommend to the IFA Board to offer O'Neill a contract which would run through until the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is over rather than the usual two-year extension the Association normally hand out.

With the clauses in place for when a club declares an interest in the manager, both O'Neill and the IFA can be content moving forward - as can supporters.

Having taken the team and the fans to the promised land of a major tournament, no one would begrudge O'Neill a big club.

The 46-year-old former Shamrock Rovers boss will not however jump at the first offer that arises.

Knowing the precarious nature of club management and intelligent enough not to be tempted by just anyone, he would study any interested club carefully before deciding if it was the job for him and if not would happily stay on as Northern Ireland boss.

Hence the key to his desire for a four-year extension, which will see him earn an increase in his current £250,000 per year salary.

O'Neill knows that in a group containing World champions Germany and the Czech Republic, it will be difficult to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals especially if he is without experienced stars such as Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes, Roy Carroll and Chris Baird, who will consider international retirement after the Euros.

That's why as well as trying to finish in the top two, he feels the World Cup qualifiers will be a build-up to the Euro 2020 campaign.

Speaking yesterday, O'Neill said: "I have had preliminary discussions with Patrick and it has all been positive. I have a good relationship with the IFA Board. There's no immediate rush.

"I would imagine between now and leading into the Christmas period things will progress and if we can reach an agreement it can be done around that time."

The IFA, set to earn millions from Euro qualification, are equally at ease with the situation and an agreement is expected to be reached. Only a major breakdown between the parties would prevent that from happening.

Ahead of next year's finals O'Neill has been looking at possible bases for his squad in France and keeping a watching brief on his players, 23 of whom he will take to the tournament.

The manager made the point that he has a pool of 30 t0 35 players and would not rule anyone out, such as Gillingham striker Rory Donnelly or Rangers ace Dean Shiels, even though they didn't figure in the Euro qualifiers.

Northern Ireland squad to face Latvia: Roy Carroll (Notts County), Michael McGovern (Hamilton Academical), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone). Chris Baird (Derby County), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Shane Fergsuon (Newcastle United), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town). Steven Davis (Southampton), Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Paddy McCourt (Luton Town), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United).Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Billy McKay (Wigan Athletic, on loan at Dundee United), Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic), Liam Boyce (Ross County).

Belfast Telegraph