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Michael O'Neill will sign IFA deal within days of snubbing Scotland

 

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is ready to sign a lucrative new contract with the Irish FA after rejecting the chance to become Scotland boss.

The 48-year-old will agree a four-year extension to his current deal which will run until 2024 and be worth around £750,000 per year.

An Irish FA source told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "The deal is at an advanced stage and should be agreed in the next few days."

The Scottish FA had identified O'Neill as their No.1 target since Gordon Strachan's axing in October and remained hopeful after holding "productive" talks with the Ballymena man but he said yesterday: "It's a huge honour to be offered the position, however I do not feel that this is the right opportunity for me at this moment in my career."

O'Neill would have become the highest-paid manager in Scotland's history with a £600,000 per year basic income plus add-ons but the Irish FA's enhanced terms proved decisive.

Irish FA president David Martin said: "Michael O'Neill's success on the pitch is rightly recognised and celebrated, but perhaps one of his greatest achievements has been to inspire a new generation of young people to dream of wearing the green shirt of Northern Ireland. I am therefore delighted that he is staying on as our senior men's international manager."

President Martin continued:  “Michael is extremely proud to manage his country and is excited by the challenge of taking Northern Ireland back to a major tournament. He will have the full support of the Irish FA as he seeks to achieve that aim.”

In his statement, O’Neill added: “I would like to place on record my gratitude to the SFA for the very professional manner in which they conducted negotiations and I would also like to wish them every success for the future.”

While the Irish FA are relieved Edinburgh-based O’Neill is going nowhere, their Scottish counterparts have been left reeling.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “The process of identifying and recruiting a new Scotland national coach remains ongoing.

“The board of the Scottish FA appointed a sub-committee to oversee the recruitment process, compile a list of suitable candidates and ultimately make a recommendation. As part of that process, and in recognition of his work in taking Northern Ireland to Uefa Euro 2016, Michael O’Neill was identified as an obvious candidate for consideration.

“Michael and his advisers met our delegation in Edinburgh on Thursday and discussed all aspects of the role during a three-hour meeting. While this was a positive and cordial discussion, we respect Michael’s decision to remain loyal to Northern Ireland.

“We wish him well in his future endeavours and thank the Irish FA for their professionalism throughout.”

O’Neill will travel to Switzerland today ahead of tomorrow’s Uefa Nations League draw where Northern Ireland have a one in four chance of being pitted against the Republic of Ireland.

He will also hold talks with senior players including Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Jamie Ward to assess their appetite to prolong their international careers.

Belfast Telegraph

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