Belfast Telegraph

IFA will face huge battle to hold onto Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill, says Jim Shaw

By Steven Beacom

Irish FA President Jim Shaw has admitted Northern Ireland will face a fight to keep Michael O’Neill should he lead the team to the 2016 European Championship finals.

Shaw insists that he wants O’Neill to build on what he has achieved so far and stay long term but is aware that with Northern Ireland on course to reach next year’s Euro finals, the manager’s progress is being tracked by clubs in England and Scotland and that interest will increase if he inspires his players to make it all the way to France.

Earlier this week O’Neill looked towards the future by putting together a new coaching team for the Northern Ireland under-21 squad. His own long term future, though, is open to debate.

“When a manager in international football is successful at what would be viewed as one of the smaller associations they become a target for others. With the job Michael is doing with Northern Ireland we know full well that he could become a wanted man,” Shaw told the Belfast Telegraph.

“He is young and is obviously extremely capable and we have to accept that clubs may be interested in him. As an organisation we haven’t discussed Michael’s future yet, but speaking personally of course I would like him to stay on after the European Championship campaign.”

O'Neill's current contract is up at the end of 2015. The 45-year-old has no intention of walking away from that deal and, if qualification is secured, would be determined to take Northern Ireland to France for the country's first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup finals.

That will happen with the IFA, who stand to make around £8million by reaching the finals, hoping to reach an agreement that might entice the ex-Shamrock Rovers boss to stay for at least another campaign.

The IFA do not wish to disrupt O'Neill's Euro quest and ideally would prefer to wait until October, when all the Group F games are over, before opening negotiations with the boss, who by then could be in an even stronger position than he is now.

O'Neill has guided Northern Ireland to four wins out of five in the qualifiers to date and second place in the table. Stay there and they will be going to France.

When others at the IFA doubted O'Neill during a disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying series, President Shaw backed him every step of the way... a stance that has since been vindicated.

"I believe Michael has done and is doing a fantastic job as manager and our results in the campaign so far would bear that out. We are in an excellent position halfway through this qualifying campaign," said Shaw.

Meanwhile, with just one month to go before Northern Ireland's latest qualifier against group leaders Romania at Windsor Park, Shaw has revealed that the work to place seats in the Railway and South Stands to accommodate 10,000 fans, in the absence of the demolished Kop, is on schedule.

Belfast Telegraph

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