Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: All you need to know as Stoke City approach Irish FA seeking permission to speak to Northern Ireland manager

O'Neill new odds-on favourite but Potters must meet compensation fee to speak to international boss

Michael O’Neill said there is a belief in his side they can qualify for Euro 2020 (Tim Goode/PA)
Michael O’Neill said there is a belief in his side they can qualify for Euro 2020 (Tim Goode/PA)
Michael O’Neill
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Stoke City have approached the Irish FA seeking permission to speak to Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill over the vacant position at the Championship club.

The IFA are currently speaking to the boss about the approach, which has been made after the Potters axed Nathan Jones last week with the side bottom of the Championship table.

The news is an unwelcome distraction for Northern Ireland just over a week prior to the Euro 2020 qualifying double header against the Netherlands and Germany.

After Stoke's trip to Barnsley this weekend, the club does not play again until November 23, four day's after Northern Ireland's qualification campaign concludes in Frankfurt. The club may even be willing to allow O'Neill to take charge of those two final games for the nation, should an agreement be made for a move.

That, however, is still a long way off.

Here's all you need to know about the situation:

What must happen now for Michael O'Neill to become the new Stoke boss?

Stoke must first meet the IFA's compensation fee, understood to be around £650k, to earn the right to talks with the boss.

That figure is unlikely to present many problems for the Potters hierarchy, given that Alex Neil, who was the early frontrunner for the job, is understood to have a clause in his Preston contract that entitles his current club to over £3m if another side can tempt him away.

If and when Stoke meet the IFA's requirement, they then face the task of convincing O'Neill that his future lies away from Belfast.

As recently as January last year, the Scottish FA met the IFA's price, then £500k, but were turned down by the man in question, who opted instead to put pen to paper on a new deal lasting until 2024 at Windsor Park.

As part of that agreement, the compensation figure now is understood to stand at around £750k for a Premier League team or around £650k for any other club.

It wasn't the first time O'Neill decided he is better off in his current role.

Two years ago in November 2017, O'Neill rejected an approach by Sunderland, who were then bottom of England's second tier, similar to Stoke's current plight.

What is there to consider when deciding whether to stay or go?

Should discussions take place, O'Neill will once again weigh up the pros and cons of taking the step back into club management.

A factor, of course, will likely be the wage on offer. While O'Neill's current contract at Windsor Park is worth £750,000 per year, it is thought that Stoke could potentially double his wages with an offer of up to £1.5m per season.

He would be moving into a bleak situation, however, with the Potters already six points from safety in the Championship table, having won only two of their 15 Championship games so far this season, picking up just eight points.

As he assesses survival chances, O'Neill could consider, among other factors, the strength of the Stoke squad.

The new boss will have at his disposal the likes of Republic of Ireland attackers James McClean and Scott Hogan as well as experienced heads like England goalkeeper Jack Butland, former Liverpool duo Joe Allen and Tom Ince as well as ex-Manchester United man Nick Powell. He will, however, take a over a squad with the joint second worst attacking record and joint second worst defensive record in the league.

Other factors for O'Neill could include the stability of the club and the board's willingness to give a manager time to succeed.

While Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes both enjoyed long reigns between 2006 and 2018, there has since been three permanent managers at Stoke. Paul Lambert left after four months in charge with the club relegated from the Premier League. Gary Rowett was then sacked less than eight months into a three year contract and now Jones has been axed after only 10 months in charge.

After being linked a potential successor to Claudio Ranieri at Leicester in 2017, O'Neill outlined some of his concerns about becoming a club manager.

"It's a totally different environment you're going into (than international football)," he said. "Week to week you almost have to get results, the tenure is much shorter. You have to fit into a structure at a club where you're not necessarily signing the players.

"All of those (factors) make it something you would have to consider very closely before you would take that decision."

What are the latest odds?

The bookies have responded to news of the approach by making O'Neill the heavy favourite to become the next Stoke manager, rated as low at 1/5. That's well clear of the likes of Aberdeen's Derek McInness at 10/1, Chris Hughton at 11/1 and Tony Pulis at 12/1.

(Odds via PaddyPower)

What has Michael O'Neill had to say about the Stoke job?

O'Neill, on announcing his Northern Ireland squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers on Wednesday, was asked about the potential of taking over at the bet365 Stadium.

He said he was focused on the national team's double-header against the Netherlands and Germany but remained coy over the specific opportunity.

"It is always flattering," he said. "It is better to be linked than not linked, let's be honest. And that applies to every job.

"But it is not a distraction for me. It is something that has been ongoing for a number of years and the focus has been on preparing for next week's games.

"As I have always said, if and when a situation arises, then you look at that scenario at that moment in time. But right now, my focus is obviously on the two games that lie ahead."

Why is Michael O'Neill a wanted man?

O'Neill has been Northern Ireland manager for over seven years and guided his team to the Euro 2016 finals, where they would progress to the knock-out stages.

After that, they were denied a World Cup finals spot only by a highly contentious play-off defeat to Switzerland and are currently highly likely to feature in the Euro 2020 play-offs in March.

It's been a stunning run for the national team that, on O'Neill's arrival, hadn't qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and were languishing around 100th in the World Rankings.

O'Neill led the team to their highest ever position on the list; 20th in 2017.

Prior to taking the role, O'Neill led two club teams, beginning his managerial career by taking over Brechin City and then moving to Dublin giants Shamrock Rovers, who he led to the Europa League group stage in 2011.

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