Tommy Wright has not quit St Johnstone to walk straight into the vacant Northern Ireland job.
In a shock announcement on Saturday morning, Wright, a leading candidate to replace Michael O’Neill, abruptly ended his seven-year tenure in Perth.
But Sunday Life Sport understands:
◊ The Irish FA were blindsided by the decision;
◊ The former Northern Ireland goalkeeper is still considered to be behind Ian Baraclough and Stephen Robinson in the running for the position;
◊ Even though Saturday’s parting of the ways is being portrayed as amicable, tensions between Wright and his chairman Steve Brown over the squad budget, especially after the Ballyclare man aired his frustrations publicly in January, were a major reason for him falling on his sword.
Wright, who was the second longest serving boss in the Scottish Premiership behind Aberdeen’s Derek McInnes, will go down as St Johnstone’s most successful ever manager after he led them to their only major trophy success, the 2014 Scottish Cup, and four top-six finishes.
Before the coronavirus outbreak struck, Wright, who had joined the club in 2011 as Steve Lomas’ assistant, had guided the Saints away from relegation and into seventh place.
But Wright’s major gripe was a lack of control around signings, having a small pool of players to choose from and the inability to strengthen his squad.
Just after Christmas, he fumed: “We have gone with a smaller squad this season, certainly the smallest in the last eight or nine years at this club. All I get told is: ‘Get players out’. That’s all there is. I have to be honest, it just beggars belief.
“The hope seems to be that I’ll keep pulling rabbits out of the hat in the last week of the window. I feel a lot of the football decisions are being taken away from me. You could basically change my title to head coach, rather than manager.
“It is a frustrating time. I can only give recommendations. That’s my job but, in general, my proposals in football matters have been overlooked. Maybe the club should change my title.
“I am at a point where I think honesty is the best policy. It has not been a good window for us and it goes beyond anything I have had to experience before. If people take this as me lashing out, then so be it, but the one thing I am is honest. You can’t kid people. I haven’t been given the authority to go ahead and sign anyone. End of story.”
On Saturday, Wright, who is back home in Northern Ireland, insisted he had a good relationship with Brown.
“There hasn’t been that many downsides. It’s been a great job. I’ve had great support,” conceded the 56 year-old. “It’s not a normal manager-chairman relationship. He has supported me immensely. During a period earlier this season, which was the worst run, particularly with the timing of it, he never once put me under any pressure.
“And that shows that I had trust in the players and he had the ultimate trust in me as a manager. The relationship is fine. We spoke this week, we spoke over a period of time and it is something that I actually feel that the timing of it is right, right for the club.
“Seven years is a long time to have the same manager. People have to realise that sometimes things come to a natural end.”
Wright had two years to go on his contract but it is understood he had already decided to leave at the end of the season but brought his departure forward due to the coronavirus outbreak.
He said he had been thinking about leaving for two years.
However, it was still a tough and emotional decision for him.
“It was extremely difficult, obviously being at the club so long I’ve got a lot of feelings for the club, lots and lots of happy memories and worked with a lot of good people both on the pitch and off the pitch,” added Wright.
“It was something that was being considered for a while, even as far back as the end of the season when we finished eighth (in 2017-18).
“We sort of made a decision to see if over the next couple of years we could bring the age of the squad down and it might be time for me to move on. Fortunately, we have done that. There have been two good seasons.
“It’s been something I felt that when you are at a club for a long period of time, sometimes there comes a point where you need a break and I do need a break.
“It’s a tough job. People don’t give you sympathy being in football management, but it’s 365 days and 24 hours a day and I just felt that this season, if we did well, it would have been the perfect time for me to leave the club in a really strong position.
“The future is really bright on the pitch. I won’t be the one that will take the team forward but I think that could be good, not only for me but for the club.
“I think it can be a top-six side and in a really good position. It hasn’t been an easy decision but I think it is the right time.”