Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Now it's a straight fight between Northern Ireland and Scotland for Michael O'Neill

 

By Jim Gracey

Irish FA chiefs are facing a straight fight with Scotland over Michael O'Neill after West Brom's owner effectively ruled the Northern Ireland manager out of the running to succeed sacked Tony Pulis.

The cooling of West Brom's interest, after being made the bookies favourite to take over at the Hawthorns, still leaves in-demand O'Neill with two lucrative options.

Alan Pardew is the new favourite to land the West Brom job after club owner Guachan Lai made it clear to his board of directors that he wants his next manager to have Premier League experience.

Pardew has previously led West Ham, Southampton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace.

The criteria takes Michael O'Neill out of the equation and a tenuous link to the Rangers job has also receded with former Ibrox boss Alex McLeish in the frame for a return.

That leaves Irish FA chiefs in a tug of war they are confident they can win by heading off Scotland's designs on Edinburgh-based O'Neill to succeed Gordon Strachan.

Windsor Park bosses do not believe O'Neill's heart is set on a move despite being given permission to consider a Scottish offer in the region of £800,000 a year, considerably higher than his £500,000 a year Irish FA contract which runs until 2020.

They have countered the Scottish interest by tabling an extended new six-year deal worth between £600,000 and £700,000 a year to O'Neill.

The hope is that O'Neill's strong Northern Ireland ties, coupled with the increased security and salary will persuade him to stay. The 48-year-old will not be giving any answers soon as he mourns the passing of his mother, Patricia, whose funeral took place in Ballymena yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph

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