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Michael O'Neill leaves Northern Ireland manager's job due to Euro play-off postponement


Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill says it is 'only fair' that he leaves his role as Northern Ireland manager immediately following UEFA's proposed rescheduling of the European Championship play-offs.

Although nothing is certain due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is understood Uefa want Northern Ireland's semi-final in Bosnia & Herzegovina to be played in October with a potential final at Windsor Park versus the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia to follow November.

O'Neill, who has been combining his international role with his job as Stoke City boss since November, has previously said continuing in both positions "wouldn't be doable" in the first half of a domestic season.

He had previously hoped to complete the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign although admits now that he must vacate his position in order to give Northern Ireland the past chance of making it to the finals, which have been rescheduled for summer 2021.

"After careful consideration and following discussions with the Irish FA I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside," he said.

“I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the UEFA 2020 play-off game versus Bosnia and Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible.

“It was important to leave the association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight year tenure."

The Irish FA now face the unenviable task of replacing O'Neill. Under 21 chief Ian Baraclough, Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson and the IFA's Elite Performance Director are expected to be the frontrunners for the role.

Chief executive Patrick Nelson has vowed to have O'Neill's successor in place for Northern Ireland's next scheduled fixtures, in the Nations League with a trip to Romania on September 4 followed by a home game against Norway five days later.

"We were all looking forward to having Michael back to lead the team in March for the game against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but, for obvious reasons, it simply wasn’t to be," said IFA CEO Patrick Nelson

“Now that we have a clearer sense from UEFA on their next programme of games, it is the right time to move forward in a new direction to give Michael’s successor the best possible chance of planning for and competing in the Nations League, as well as gearing up for those crucial play-off games that will hopefully take us back to Euros next summer.

“We will work with our board to ensure the next manager is in place for the games in September."

O'Neill's last game in charge was the 6-1 defeat in Germany that brought a close to the group stage of Euro 2020 qualifying, after which he intentionally left the field arm in arm with skipper Steven Davis.


Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill

The former Shamrock Rovers chief was appointed to the Northern Ireland role in December 2011, with the nation on a run of just one win from their previous 13 games.

He didn't wave an immediate magic wand, enduring a run of one win from his first 18 matches in charge.

However, it was in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign that he masterminded a stark upturn in his country's fortunes, guiding the side to top the qualifying group and make it to the first major finals since the 1986 world Cup.

“Throughout my time here, I have been fortunate to have worked with many great coaching, medical and support staff who have all contributed to our successes and shared in some great moments," he continued.

“As for my players, past and present, I would like to thank them all for an overwhelming level of commitment and professionalism that has helped to deliver so many unforgettable highs and great experiences for us all.

“I would also like to thank everyone at the Irish FA who have made the job a wonderful experience and especially Patrick Nelson (CEO), Leslie Caul and Gerry Mallon (IFA chairmen), Jim Shaw and David Martin (IFA Presidents) who have always been a great source of support.

“Finally, to the fans, thank you. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to manage my country and I will treasure my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever. The support you have provided myself and the team over the years has been incredibly humbling."

Belfast Telegraph