Five 5 possible destinations for Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neillby Colin Millar / 15 November 2017, 09:51Tweet
Northern Ireland’s admirable and commendable World Cup campaign ended in agonising defeat in the playoffs. The Green and White Army could not recover from a highly controversial penalty awarded in the first leg of their tie with Switzerland, losing 1-0 on aggregate.
This has fuelled speculation that it will be the end of Michael O’Neill’s six-year spell in charge of the nation. Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) takes a look at five potential jobs for the 48-year-old, whose stock has risen sharply during his stint in the Windsor Park hotseat.
The nation have now completed two full decades without an appearance in a major international tournament, prompting Gordon Strachan’s exit last month. Major media outlets are now reporting that the Scottish FA have made O’Neill - who lives in the nation - their number one priority, even speculating that they are offering to double his wages.
It’s a move that would make sense for the Scots - the job is similar to Northern Ireland, but with a greater pool of playing talent and more potential. The requisites of the job are the same and O’Neill has shown he can organise a team defensively, make them a threat at set pieces and exploit weaknesses in poorly-organised international opposition.
The main question is whether it’s a good move for the Ballymena-native. Will his stock rise if he takes the job, or is this outweighed by the risk of failure? Scotland have a handful of emerging young talents but it would take an outstanding managerial job to see a drastic upturn in their fortunes.
Perhaps the most notable absentee from next summer’s World Cup - not due to their playing squad or international pedigree, but due to the relative gentle qualification process. They ranked behind Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, while they even missed out on a playoff spot to Honduras, prompting Bruce Arena’s exit.
O’Neill’s name has now been linked to the hotseat and whilst this may come as a surprise, he enjoyed a little-known playing stint with Portland Timbers in 2001. He is known to enjoy the control and stability of international management, with this role offering such guarantees as opposed to club football.
It would be a notable career move, requiring a total upheaval in work and family life. On the other hand, it would offer the manager the best opportunity of qualifying for a future World Cup.
The North-East club are in a state fast-approaching crisis, sitting rock bottom of the Championship with just one win in 16 games following relegation from the top flight. Simon Grayson was dismissed over a fortnight ago and is yet to be replaced, with the club reportedly keen on O’Neill.
The 48-year-old is the outstanding candidate with Ally McCoist, Aitor Karanka and Paul Heckingbottom among the other names mentioned. Northern Irish defender Paddy McNair is currently back in action for the club after returning from a long-term injury, while O’Neill’s playing stint with Newcastle not thought to be any meaningful deterrent to moving to the Stadium of Light.
It would be a risky move for the manager, with the club reportedly up for sale and sinking in growing debt.
No formal approach to Barnsley yet - but it’s imminent. #SAFC have spoken to McCoist and considered Karanka and Michael O’Neill, but it looks like it’s Heckingbottom’s job if he wants it.— Scott Wilson (@Scottwilsonecho) November 15, 2017
Pedro Caixinha’s ill-fated rein in Glasgow came to an end last month with the club yet to find a replacement, with the bookmakers linking the former midfielder who played for six Scottish clubs including Dundee United, Aberdeen and Hibernian, while his management career started off with Brechin City.
Just as with Sunderland, this job is viewed as unstable with the risk outweighing the reward of success. The inconvenient truth is the club are still a sizable distance behind bitter Old Firm rivals Glasgow Celtic and unless that gap is overhauled in a reasonably short term, any manager will be viewed unfavourably by the demanding fanbase.
Sean Dyche is still in charge at Turf Moor but Everton are yet to replace Ronald Koeman and are believed to have the highly-rated English manager - who’s been at Burnley since 2012 - as one of their main options.
That could potentially open up the vacant managerial position at the Clarets, who have enjoyed a flying start to the Premier League season. Unlike other clubs, this job would offer stability and progression, with a board who are not trigger-happy and willing to buy into a project.
Furthermore, most of the squad has emerged through the lower leagues and are both similar in calibre and playing style to that fashioned by O’Neill at Northern Ireland.
It could well be he is patient and waits for the right club job to present itself in the fullness of time.
...and let’s not forget, O’Neill is still under contract with Northern Ireland until 2020.
The deal, signed 18 months ago, was at the insistence of the manager - who preferred a four-year contract rather than the Irish Football Association’s usual two-year policy. Fans of the Green and White Army will hold out hope he will stick around for one more campaign.