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Michael O'Neill: Why I'd love to return to Northern Ireland as the Irish FA chief executive

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Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

�INPHO/William Cherry

Michael O’Neill

Ambitious Michael O'Neill has already set his sights on a return to the Irish FA in the future - but as Chief Executive Officer rather than international senior team manager.

O'Neill quit his Northern Ireland post last week after eight years at the helm to concentrate fully on being boss of Stoke City in England's Championship.

However, having qualified with a Masters in sports directorship from the University of Manchester and excelled in his role as the IFA's Chief Football Officer, the 50 year-old, once his club management days are over, would seriously consider putting his name forward for the top job at Windsor Park.

"I do like the idea of being able to influence the game from a different type of role than being a manager," admits O'Neill.

"To have an influence on the game, and the game in Northern Ireland in particular. Down the line, I would like to think maybe one day there will be an opportunity to be involved in some capacity with the IFA again."

IFA President, David Martin, says: "I think he has the attributes for that role anywhere in football. Absolutely he has that ability."

O’Neill has been a big advocate in recent years of the Irish League moving to ‘summer football’ while he would also like to see more young players involved in the Danske Bank Premiership. He was keen to introduce a cap on the veteran players.

O’Neill would certainly like to have a greater influence for change in Northern Ireland football.

He continues: “From my point of view I’m close to it in many ways as I started my career in the Irish League, I finished my career with Glentoran and ultimately I went on to manage Northern Ireland.

“I would love to see Northern Irish football progress. It’s a huge challenge because of the size of the country.

“There’s a lot of positives but it has to be prepared to change. I think football will change in the coming years, maybe in how the leagues are structured, or maybe an opportunity for a team to play in a UK league. All these things might happen down the road.

“I’ll always be close to Northern Irish football, of course I will, I will always keep an eye on young players from Northern Ireland and those contacts will always remain strong for me.”

O’Neill sees his immediate managerial future in the club game, but hasn’t ruled out a return to the international scene.

However there are no guarantees that would be with Northern Ireland, despite his strong feelings for his country.

At the end of 2017, start of 2018 Scotland courted O’Neill and hoped he would become their national team manager. He was interviewed twice and seriously considered their offer before signing a new deal with the Irish FA.

“I do think at some point I would probably go back into international management if there was the opportunity for me to do so,” concedes O’Neill.

“I did enjoy it and I would probably enjoy it more later in my career.

“It came to me very early. I had to learn on the job. I hadn’t had any experience of being an international manager. The second time around you would know what to expect.”

Belfast Telegraph