Belfast Telegraph

Give O'Neill a new deal

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland great Gerry Armstrong has told the Irish FA to hand manager Michael O'Neill a new two year contract.

Armstrong's comments come ahead of today's draw in Russia for the 2018 World Cup qualifying groups.

They follow what O'Neill said in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, that he would be open to staying on for the World Cup campaign.

In the past O'Neill has refused to talk about his future beyond the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, when his current deal ends, but speaking to this newspaper he 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 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," added the Northern Ireland boss who maintained he is happy in the job and 'not actively trying to get something else'.

Should O'Neill take Northern Ireland to the Euro finals in France, and they are well placed to do so, he could expect interest from clubs in England and Scotland. The IFA have said they will talk with the manager once the Euro qualifiers are over, but it is clear Armstrong would like to see O'Neill given a new deal

"I would say to the IFA to snap him up and give him a new two year contract," said renowned Sky Sports pundit Armstrong.

"He is one of the best up and coming young managers around and a very intelligent guy. What he has done with Northern Ireland in the current Euro campaign is a credit to him. The players enjoy working with him and he has built a good backroom squad which can only benefit Northern Ireland in the future."

Armstrong, now based in Spain, is looking forward to today's World Cup draw in Russia.

Northern Ireland will enter proceedings in Pot Three. In O'Neill's interview with the Belfast Telegraph yesterday he talked about his desire to land one of Europe's big hitters and bring England, Germany or Spain to Windsor Park, which should be up to its full 18,000 capacity by the time the World Cup group games begin in September next year.

Armstrong would also love to see England back in Belfast for the first time since 2005, but you getting the feeling having the best European player on the planet strutting his stuff again at Windsor appeals a little bit more.

"I would love to see us have another crack at Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo," said Armstrong.

"I'm a big admirer of Ronaldo and I'm sure all the Northern Ireland fans would like to see him back at Windsor Park.

"In our last World Cup qualifying campaign we faced Portugal and when they played in Belfast we were 2-1 up only for Ronaldo to score a hat-trick to win the game 4-2. We had two men (Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty) sent off that night though and had they stayed on I believe the result would have been different.

"If we don't get Portugal I'd like to see England at Windsor. We beat them on their last visit thanks to David Healy's goal. It would be great to have another go at them."

Meanwhile the financial cost of Fifa's corruption scandal is hitting home with Sepp Blatter's embattled organisation admitting yesterday it was struggling to attract new sponsors.

Draw pots

Pot 1: Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, Croatia

Pot 2: Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Pot 3: Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Greece

Pot 4: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia

Pot 5: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova

Pot 6: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra

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