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Northern Ireland closing in on new deal to keep Michael O'Neill until 2024

 

By Steven Beacom

The Irish FA appointed Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland boss six years ago today and are now confident of pulling off another masterstroke by persuading him to sign a new contract for the same length of time.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph a fortnight ago, O'Neill revealed that he was set to open talks with the IFA about their offer of a new six year deal worth over £4m.

Those discussions took place before Christmas and, following a positive exchange between the two parties, the IFA now aim to hold further talks early in the new year in their quest to keep the in-demand 48-year-old, who famously guided Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals - the nation's first major tournament since 1986.

O'Neill (right) is the number one target for Scotland, who have been without a manager since sacking Gordon Strachan in October, but there is growing belief at Windsor Park that he will stay where he is and have a shot at taking his home country to Euro 2020 after suffering disappointment last month when Northern Ireland lost to Switzerland in a play-off for next year's World Cup finals due to a penalty that should never have been awarded.

The IFA see O'Neill not just as Northern Ireland manager, but a figurehead for the sport here, and feel he should be rewarded as such.

Significantly, O'Neill has consistently stated he is happy in his current role and for him right now it is business as usual. He has been speaking to the IFA about friendlies and agreed a tour of Central America with games against Panama (May 29) and Costa Rica (June 3) booked.

O’Neill has always been honest enough to disclose that he will speak to other national associations or clubs interested in him if they agree to the conditions in his current deal.

To open discussions with O’Neill, the Scottish FA, for instance, must agree to pay the IFA £500,000 in compensation if O’Neill leaves the Green and White Army for the Tartan Army, while the figure for an English Premier League outfit would be £750,000.

It’s worth noting, however, that O’Neill says that holding talks would not mean his spell in charge of Northern Ireland would necessarily end.

West Bromwich Albion were keen on O’Neill but opted to appoint Alan Pardew as the successor to Tony Pulis last month, while Sunderland recruited Welsh boss Chris Coleman after receiving little encouragement from the ex-Newcastle player who topped their shortlist.

IFA officials would be surprised if more clubs don’t come in for the ex-Shamrock Rovers supremo, who has shown with Northern Ireland how with tactical awareness and superb man-management skills he can lift a group of players to continually punch above their weight.

On this day in 2011, O’Neill was announced as the new boss by the IFA having beaten ex-teammates Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie to the job.

The IFA would see it as an even greater success if he were to sign what would be the longest and most lucrative contract of his reign.

Belfast Telegraph

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