Belfast Telegraph

Championship a very appealing league: Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill responds to West Brom speculation

Michael O'Neill.
Michael O'Neill.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has stressed that a range of factors would have to fit if he was to make the move back into club football.

The 49-year-old is expected to be the target of a move from Championship side West Brom in the coming days. Should the Hawthorns club meet the manager's release fee, it will give O'Neill another big decision to make.

Having rejected the advances of the Scottish FA over a year ago, O'Neill penned a new deal with the Irish FA that lasts until 2024.

But he has admitted that there is still a lure of working in the day-to-day environment of club football, having enjoyed spells in charge at Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers before entering the international stage back in 2012.

"Nothing more than what's in the media already," he told the BBC, when asked what he could say about the links to the Hawthorns. "There are vacancies throughout the Football League at the minute and the Championship is certainly a very appealing league to work in.

"When you are looking to step out of the situation I am in, possibly at club management, you are always looking at what the structure of the club is and that it is right for me.

"But at the minute, to be honest, as people know I'm under a long-term contract with the IFA and have two very important games in June. That's where my focus is at the minute. We're here in Manchester at a training camp for our players, to keep them ticking over, and we have another one here next week. All the focus is on that."

That straight-eyed concentration could be forced to waver this weekend should West Brom make their advance.

"I've been in this job for seven years and in that period there have been a number of approaches made," he said. "In that time I didn't think it was right. I do think there are good chairmen and good owners out there to work with.

"(West Brom) are a club with a lot of potential and I'm sure there are a number of managers they would like to speak to."

Whether or not the astute boss can be tempted back into the club game immediately will likely depend on his analysis of the project presented by a club who have churned their way through seven permanent managers in the time that O'Neill has led Northern Ireland.

"I've been an international manager now for seven years," he said. "At some point in time, of course club football is always attractive. You can never plan too far ahead in football but the club game now, there is so much instability in it and the tenure of managers is very short term.

"You see the benefits of (stability) at the top of the Premier League with Liverpool and Tottenham and the success that comes with that."

Northern Ireland travel to face Estonia on JUne 8 and Belarus on June 11 as they look to add to their opening two Euro2020 qualifying victories.

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