What a deal! Michael O'Neill all clear to take NI to Euro 2020 finals
Michael O'Neill will be Northern Ireland's manager at the Euro 2020 finals should the team reach the finals.
In an extraordinary deal that has taken O'Neill to Championship strugglers Stoke City, the 50-year-old will continue to be in charge of his country until Northern Ireland's European Championship journey ends.
O'Neill did not want to leave with the Euro 2020 adventure ongoing and made it clear to Stoke's owners that was a key factor in him joining them.
In a statement detailing O'Neill's move to Stoke the Irish FA revealed that he will remain in charge for Northern Ireland's final two group games at home to Holland next Saturday and away to Germany three days later PLUS any Euro 2020 play-off matches in March.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that if Northern Ireland reach next year's finals, O'Neillwill be asked to lead them there and he will be happy to do so with Stoke's blessing.
Having signed a three and a half year contract with Stoke worth a whopping £5.25 million, O'Neill is in charge of his new team today away to Barnsley in a crucial Championship encounter.
Already he has assured fans he believes he has joined a club with potential for a return to the Premier league.
On Monday he will meet up with the Northern Ireland squad prior to their clash with Holland.
With victories over the Dutch and Germans needed to automatically qualify for Euro 2020, the play-offs look our best bet to make it to the tournament and re-create the magic of Euro 2016 under O'Neill.
How O’Neill will cope with the demanding Stoke job and Northern Ireland games this season remains to be seen but the IFA, while disappointed that they are going to lose O’Neill long-term, are delighted he will be in the international dugout a while yet.
The unlikely double jobbing scenario also gives the IFA more time to search for O’Neill’s successor.
Paying tribute to O’Neill, Irish FA president David Martin said: “It’s typical of Michael. He is not just leaving and forgetting about us. He is quite happy in the international window to manage the team which is great. It is good for consistency.
“If you go back to 2007-2008 when we were close to Euro qualification and changed managers (Lawrie Sanchez to Nigel Worthington), it didn’t happen so let’s look on the positive and hopefully it will happen this time.
“We had stuttered for a few years until Michael came in. He had a difficult first two years but he has lifted the country, the supporters and the team and is an inspiration.
“I can’t speak highly enough for what he has done for Northern Ireland football.
“He has been a massive influence on the game here. He has gone further than managing the team. He has lived and breathed Northern Ireland football across all levels and I wish all the very best to him in his new challenge at Stoke City.”
Already a host of names, including Stephen Robinson (Motherwell), Tommy Wright (St Johnstone), Grant McCann (Hull City) and Ian Baraclough (Northern Ireland Under-21 boss), have been mentioned in terms of O’Neill’s replacement.
Martin said: “The IFA board will look at that in due course. Michael is going to be a very hard act to follow. His legacy is more than the team. It’s putting foundations in for our coaching and development. It has to be someone who fits seamlessly into all of that.”