Martin O’Neill steps down as Ireland manager
FAI confirm O’Neill’s five-year tenure is over along with Roy Keane
Martin O’Neill’s five-year stint as Ireland boss is over. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The FAI has confirmed Martin O’Neill has departed his position as manager of the Republic of Ireland. Roy Keane and the rest of the management team - Seamus McDonagh and Steve Guppy have also gone, the association said in a statement.
O’Neill is said to have reached a “mutual agreement” with the organisations after prolonged talks over the past 24 hours.
“I would like to thank Martin, Roy, and the management team for the impact that they had with the Ireland team,” John Delaney is quoted as saying. “There have been many highlights during Martin’s reign - none more so than Euro 2016 in France, which will live long in the memory of all Irish supporters.
“Martin did a great job guiding the team out of a difficult qualifying group - where we beat World Champions Germany along the way - to reach Euro 2016 and advance to the last-16 following a historic victory over Italy in Lille.”
Sadly, those highlights had become a somewhat distant memory for all concerned and O’Neill goes after a Nations League campaign in which Ireland failed to win a game.
O’Neill insisted in Aarhus that he would still be in charge when the European Championship qualification campaign got underway in March but said he would discuss the team’s recent performance on the plane home.
Instead, he is believed to have spent much of Tuesday in further discussions with Delaney as it became clear that the association’s chief executive had decided it was time to make a change.
Delaney is reported to have been concerned by the attendance of just 31,000 at the Northern Ireland game although the issue of poor crowds at home games has been an ongoing one, partly covered up by the FAI giving large numbers of tickets to schoolboy clubs.
The attendances obviously have financial implications for the association but the bigger issue is qualification for the European Championships which is worth a minimum of €10 million in prize money after which there are performance related bonuses and payments from sponsors. Euro 2016 yielded a net profit to the association of around €4.5 million.
Since then, O’Neill and the rest of his team have renegotiated their contracts with the manager believed to have doubled his money to just over €2 million per annum and Keane understood to be on around €800,000.
The likely cost of the severance packages involved had been seen as one reason the association might stick with the northerner, at least until the early stages of the European qualifiers.
For O’Neill, departing now, like this, will be quite a blow. He had previously talked on a number of occasions about the approaches he had received from English clubs being an endorsement of the job he had done with Ireland during his first two campaigns in the job.
A year on from steering Ireland to the World Cup play-offs, however, he would be leaving the post with a dismal recent record of just one win in 11 games and with the team sliding down the rankings after a terribly poor Nations League campaign.
He has also, like his predecessor, Giovanni Trapattoni, attracted a great deal of criticism over the style of football his team plays. The options available to him now may not be quite so attractive.
Inevitably, he will point to the strength of the squad he has to work with but the Ireland manager’s job pretty always comes down to an ability to get the team to punch above its weight and it had become increasingly apparent over the past year that O’Neill was struggling badly on that front.
The challenge for the association will now will be to find a manager capable of getting much more out of the group. There are no guarantees on that but in its statement it says that the board will meet “promptly” to consider the situation.
Mick McCarthy is likely to be an early frontrunner for the job and has the distinct advantage of being available, most likely for a great deal less than the association was paying O’Neill.
The draw for the European Championship qualifying groups is in Dublin on December 2nd. Ireland will be third seeds with two teams progressing automatically from each of the 10 groups.
If Ireland fail to make it in that way, then they will almost certainly get a second shot at it by way of the Nations League play-offs. Dublin is one of the host cities for Euro 2020 with three group and one round of 16 games.