Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill speaks out about Scotland speculation as he prepares to open Northern Ireland discussions

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill has stated that he will soon open talks with the Irish FA about a new six-year deal to continue his outstanding work as Northern Ireland manager.

The World Cup dream may have been crushed in Switzerland last month, but the Green and White Army desperately hope O'Neill will be around to help them and the players fulfil a few more.

O'Neill has been the subject of constant speculation since his team lost their World Cup play-off to the Swiss in cruel circumstances, with a controversial penalty the difference between the sides.

West Brom and Sunderland were interested in the 48-year-old before Alan Pardew and Chris Coleman jumped into those respective hotseats. Scotland, though, remain extremely keen on appointing a man regarded as a sporting legend in Northern Ireland for inspiring the national side to an unforgettable Euro 2016 experience.

Throughout all the commotion and conjecture, O'Neill has kept his counsel, but has now spoken to outline his own frame of mind on what happens next.

Typically it is a considered and intelligent view from someone who has proved himself as shrewd off the field as on it during his time in charge of Northern Ireland.

The IFA are also playing a smart game in this instance, offering O'Neill a long-term contract worth over £4 million in a bid to keep him performing miracles for Northern Ireland and away from the clutches of others.

While O'Neill and his employers will chat about the package on the table, the SFA want to talk to O'Neill too. However, to have the pleasure they must agree to pay the IFA £500,000 in compensation if successful in their quest to make him Gordon Strachan's successor.

The former Newcastle United player is calm about the situation. He enjoys his current position but would talk to interested parties if contract conditions were met, though he insists that would not necessarily mean the beginning of the end with Northern Ireland.

"I'm going to be speaking to the IFA regarding the contract extension that they have indicated they would like to give me," said O'Neill, whose current deal runs until 2020.

"Until the IFA permit me to go and speak to someone I'm not thinking any further ahead than that. The relationship with the IFA is so good and so strong there is transparency and trust between both parties.

"You can't find out what a job is about until you talk to someone. You can't get a feeling for a job until you talk to someone and hear what their thoughts are.

"If the IFA give me permission to speak to someone, and then I speak to them, it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean I'm thinking outside. I'm not in a scenario where I'm actively saying 'Has someone phoned up?' or 'Can I speak to them?". It's just not like that. My focus is still with Northern Ireland."

O'Neill revealed that he had opportunities to leave Northern Ireland ahead of the Euros last year but chose to stay put.

"Had we qualified (for the World Cup) this wouldn't have even been talked about because everyone would have said he's not going to leave before he goes to the World Cup, and of course I would never have done that," O'Neill said.

"I had the same scenario leading into the Euros where there were probably opportunities when I could have left. I was never not going to go to the Euros.

"Honestly, if the situation is right for the IFA and for me I'm sure we would look at that but, at this moment in time, I'm not looking any further than doing the job I'm in and obviously sitting down with the IFA to talk about the future."

Regarding Scotland, O'Neill, who lives in Edinburgh, said: "I had a certain level of anonymity in Scotland but that's not just the way it is now because there has been so much speculation about the Scotland situation.

"It's not been driven by me saying I want the Scotland job. If Scotland go forward they have to agree something with the IFA and that hasn't been done as far as I know."

Belfast Telegraph

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