Belfast Telegraph

Only big clubs could lure NI boss Michael O'Neill away, says Sammy McIlroy

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill will only leave the Northern Ireland manager's job for a 'big Championship club with potential' according to one of his predecessors, Sammy McIlroy.

The Manchester United hero has admitted he is surprised that no English sides have come in for O'Neill since he inspired Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals - the nation's first major championship since the 1986 World Cup when McIlroy was captain of the country.

Having enjoyed a glittering playing career, McIlroy became Northern Ireland boss in 2000 but left three years later to take charge of Stockport County, who were in the old second division.

McIlroy believes if O'Neill, currently involved in Northern Ireland's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, departs his present position it will be for a role in the top two tiers of English football.

"I think if Michael is ever going to leave Northern Ireland it will be for a big Championship club with potential," said McIlroy (right).

"I don't think he'll go any lower than that because of the job he's got."

O'Neill has a four-year deal with the Irish FA. In that contract is a clause which states the Association would have to be compensated to the tune of £750,000 if clubs come calling.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this year that O'Neill was on the shortlist for the job at Celtic before compatriot Brendan Rodgers was appointed.

What has amazed McIlroy and some of the current international players is that there has not been a surge of interest in 47-year-old O'Neill from clubs in England.

McIlroy believes the trend in English football now is to hire a foreign boss such as American Bob Bradley at Swansea or make an appointment on a short-term basis rather than give roles to bright young British managers who could develop a long-term plan.

"I thought with the job Michael's done over the last couple of years definitely somebody would have come in and had a look at him," said McIlroy at an event organised by Northern Ireland's team sponsor Vauxhall.

"Everyone seems to be going for foreign managers. Look at Swansea, where did that come from? No disrespect to Bob Bradley, but that came out of the blue. Ryan Giggs was lined up for that as well, nothing happened.

"I just think now it's very, very difficult for young British managers to get that chance, for people to have the bottle to give these young managers a chance."

O'Neill has said in recent weeks that he is in no hurry to leave Northern Ireland, though it is clear that he would consider any offers from the club scene.

For now he is focused on attempting to become the first manager in history to lead Northern Ireland to back-to-back tournaments with the 2018 World Cup finals in his sights after the Euros in France.

With World champions Germany expected to win the group, Northern Ireland are aiming for the runners-up spot which should earn them a play-off place.

Northern Ireland will go into second with a win at home to Azerbaijan next month.

O'Neill will hope all his key players will be fit for that crunch match, including Leeds ace Stuart Dallas, who is out of action until November with a thigh problem.

Belfast Telegraph


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