FAI to open talks with O’Neill who admits he is ‘ready to go’
Derry man looks the preferred choice but FAI has not made an offer
Almost eight years after he knocked their officials back and they consoled themselves with the thought that he might be more interested “a little further down the line”, the FAI finally look set to discuss the Ireland manager’s job with Martin O’Neill over the coming days, with the northerner set, it seems, to be given first refusal.
In an interview broadcast by the BBC last night, the Derry man declined to discuss his interest in the job, saying only that: “I’ve had no contact from the Irish FA, at this moment. And there’s not much more I can say about it.”
Pushed a little later on his state of mind given the current situation, however, the former Celtic and Sunderland boss remarked: “Am I in a state of equanimity? Am I of composed mind? No, I don’t think so. I think that I’m, eh, I’m ready to go.”
FAI intent on making contact
The 61 year-old will not, at least, have to wait long for the contact, with the FAI intent on making contact to establish the extent of his interest over the coming days.
Its board are scheduled to meet a consultant in the early or middle part of next week in order to decide what the process for recruiting the new manager will be, but it seems O’Neill’s attitude towards succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni may have a major bearing on their approach.
Sources close to O’Neill have said he is interested in the job but a combination of his salary demands and, most likely, a willingness to show a greater day-to-day commitment to the role than Trapattoni will be taken by the association’s representatives as a more reliable indication of his seriousness.
If they are happy and the association is confident it can strike a deal with him – or even reach an outline agreement with him – then the board may end having to do no more than rubber stamp a proposal to formally offer him the job.
In that event, O’Neill should comfortably be in place for the qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan next month, with what the FAI hopes would be a popular appointment potentially paying an immediate dividend in the form of a boost to the attendance at a games that would otherwise be largely meaningless.
If, on the other hand, things do not work out with O’Neill then the association are likely to look at establishing the same sort of recruitment process that led them to Trapattoni almost six years ago. A a target date for an appointment would thus be shunted well down the line, with the organisation anxious not to get the decision wrong because they rushed things.
John Delaney will be key to the process but he insists the first thing the organisation will do is take stock.
“It’s best that we just reflect over the next four or five days,” he said yesterday. “I’m going to ask my board members to go and speak to the grassroots.
“It’s going to be a mix of everyone’s views but in the next week the FAI board will decide the process of how we will go about the appointment.
“It’s been a traumatic four or five days for Irish football and it’s time to reflect now.”
The consultation period will give the association’s leading officials time to gauge the popularity of the potential appointment.
Strong support for the northerner would encourage board members who are anxious to avoid a repeat of the situation that endured over the last few years, whereby a large number of fans felt alienated to the extent they were reluctant to attend the senior team’s games.
Delaney, though, played down the idea that O’Neill is the association’s preferred choice and that it would not even get to the stage of formally drawing up a shortlist if things go to plan over the coming days.
“We are going to get a new manager,” he said, and that manager’s objectives will be to get us to the European Championship in 2016. Football, as we all know, tends to surprise us but I wouldn’t read anything in to someone being a favourite or not being a favourite.”
Nothing in these circumstances can be taken for granted, of course. O’Neill turned the association down eight years ago as he was taking a period away from the game at the time in order to care for his wife, who was battling cancer.
A year or so later, however, when he was able to return to work, he was considered a strong favourite for the England job but lost out in the end to Steve McClaren, amid suggestions that FA officials felt he had interviewed poorly.
“I think the interview went fine,” said O’Neill later. “I’m not sure that interviews and I get along, particularly first interviews.
“Overall, I didn’t get the job; whether people on the other side of the table were impressed, unimpressed, had their own particular agenda, eventually you can come up with all sorts of reasons. The fact is when the dust settled, I wasn’t the England manager.”
It remains to be seen whether things will go more smoothly this time.