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Irish FA confident Michael O'Neill will stay with Northern Ireland as Scotland sanction approach


By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is set for one of the biggest decisions of his football career after the Scottish FA agreed to move forward in their bid to make him their manager.

In a Board meeting in Glasgow yesterday, the SFA decided that they would make contact with the Irish FA in order to speak to O'Neill about becoming Scotland's new boss.

The IFA have already indicated that as a show of respect to O'Neill they will allow interested parties to speak to him but only after they have consented to the clauses in his current contract which for Scotland would mean agreeing to pay £500,000 in compensation.

Such is their desire to appoint O'Neill, the SFA are ready to meet those terms, though sources close to the Board have revealed that Chief Executive Stewart Regan and his colleagues intend on taking their time with the process given that Scotland - and indeed Northern Ireland - are not due to play again until March.

Another fascinating element is that the SFA are keen to maintain what they believe is an amicable relationship with the IFA regardless of the outcome.

There is a sense that the Scots are no longer as confident about sealing a deal with O'Neill as they were after Northern Ireland lost to Switzerland in the World Cup play-off last month.

In contrast, there is growing belief at Windsor Park that O'Neill will stick with the country of his birth rather than switch to the one where he and his family reside.

In many ways the IFA blindsided the SFA with a new six-year offer for O'Neill, which would earn him more than £4 million in that period and offer him greater stability than the four year prize on Scotland's table.

Astute O'Neill will assess all his options but, despite the speculation in recent weeks, he very much sees himself as the Northern Ireland manager, and with his renowned attention to detail will continue to make plans in that role until he is tempted in the short or long term by a position elsewhere, be that with another international side or at club level.

Some Rangers fans were calling for their underfire board of directors to chase down O'Neill after Derek McInnes last night turned down the opportunity to move from Aberdeen to Ibrox.

All this is nothing new to the 48-year-old ex-Newcastle, Dundee United and Glentoran player.

In his time as Northern Ireland boss, with the success he has achieved in taking the team to the Euro 2016 finals and to a World Cup play-off, O'Neill has generated interest amongst Celtic, Leicester City, Norwich and Sunderland.

More will follow suit, and if an English Premier League club or ambitious English Championship side come calling, the IFA would find it difficult to compete.

O'Neill, who prides himself on an encyclopedic football knowledge, will have noted yesterday's confirmation of seedings for the Uefa Nations League draw in Lausanne on January 24.

Northern Ireland are in Pot 3 of League B and could end up facing the Republic of Ireland, managed by Ulsterman Martin O'Neill, or Wales, who are searching for a new boss following Chris Coleman's exit to Sunderland.

Scotland are in League C with their potential opponents, who are a lot less glamorous than those teams likely to face Northern Ireland, with England in League A along with Europe's big hitters.

Teams will be split into four groups of three, with the group winners involved in the Uefa Nations Finals in June 2019.

The hosts will be announced next December from among the finalists.

Belfast Telegraph

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