Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill's move to Stoke 'imminent'

But he could still take charge of NI's last two qualifiers

Michael O’Neill
Michael O’Neill

By Gareth Hanna and Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill's move to Championship side Stoke City could be confirmed on Thursday evening, the Belfast Telegraph understands.

The Athletic first reported O'Neill has agreed a double-your-money, four-year deal with the Potters worth £1.5m per year. However, work is still to be done on the compensation figure between the IFA and the club.

The Belfast Telegraph understands the deal could be confirmed as early as Thursday night or possibly Friday but that O'Neill will remain in charge for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifying double-header against the Netherlands and Germany.

It comes after the Irish FA confirmed the club had made an approach for the manager on Thursday after the sacking of Nathan Jones last week.

O'Neill, it is understood, has been given assurances the club - at the foot of the league - will have money to spend in January.

Reports are he will be at Oakwell on Saturday for Stoke’s game against Barnsley, who sit just above them in the table, but will return to Belfast for his last two games in charge of the national team.

Stoke were a mainstay in the Premier League until relegation in 2017-18 and have had three managers since in a bid to make a return to the top flight.

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.

They have won just two of their last 15 games in the league leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table and already six points from safety.

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.

Speaking at Wednesday’s squad announcement in Belfast, O’Neill was asked about potential interest from Stoke.

“It is always flattering. It is better to be linked than not linked, let’s be honest,” said O’Neill, who turned was unsuccessfully targeted by Scotland last year.

“It 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.”

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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