Republic of Ireland
manager Martin O’Neill has strongly suggested that he is inclined
to wait until he sees how his team gets on at Euro 2016 before agreeing any new deal with the FAI.
The 64-year-old, who is contracted at present until Ireland are eliminated from the competition, has repeatedly said that he would like to stay on, but as he helped to launch the 2016 Sports Direct-sponsored FAI Summer Soccer Schools yesterday, he made it clear that he does not want to end up like his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, who agreed an extension upon qualification for Euro 2012 only to see his popularity plummet in the wake of the side's poor tournament performance.
“Do I feel as if we have earned the right to at least talk about extending here . . . absolutely. John [DELANEY)]feels the same, which is great. Sometimes things will fall into place if you do well. I want to do well.
“If we were to do well in the competition, to go out there and really, really compete, then, of course, you are of a great mind. But if you go out and don’t compete – and I’m expecting to compete – you start questioning everything again.
“We have qualified and it’s great; I’m delighted we have qualified. Seriously. But if I can draw some sort of comparison with four years ago . . . I honestly thought from a distance that qualification was fantastic, really great. To qualify for any competition was really great.
“But then expectation got to such a fever pitch, I think. It seemed to be emanating from here that ‘we will beat Croatia, and, you know, get a point against Spain and then . . .’ But then things didn’t go so well and you actually come back from a competition on a downer; that’s my point.”
It is unclear whether a deal could have been struck in the immediate aftermath of the team qualifying, but O’Neill gives the impression that the failure to sit down and hammer one out was down to him rather than his employers. Certainly, the association would be expected to be anxious in the circumstances to tie him down, with Delaney bound to come in for severe criticism in the event that the team did well and O’Neill, having received offers from elsewhere, decided to move on.
The northerner, though, insists that it is simply his way and that with other things on his mind, including the wedding of his daughter, he initially preferred to put things on the long finger. Now, the thought of signing up and then almost immediately doing poorly has become a factor. He insists, in any case, that neither the salary on offer nor the proposed length of any new contract is a stumbling block.
When asked, in particular, about the notion that he might be seeking a substantial pay rise after having achieved his initial goal of qualification, the jocular mood was set firmly to one side for a moment and, without any equivocation, he stated: “No, that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true.”
Rather, he insists: “I just like to feel that if you’re going to end up signing something that you feel that you deserve it. If you’d said to me after we qualified, ‘Do you deserve it?’ I’d have said, ‘Absolutely.’ But now we are coming into a new competition. So you’re judged again and that’s right because that’s the name of this game. You are judged on the next couple of matches coming up. I don’t want to be sitting here with a great sense of contentment around me that I’ve done something and then find that I’m flummoxed. You want to be right for it and that’s the way I’ve treated these things in all of my time.
“As a player, seriously, I went into a European Cup final one time with my contract out,” he continues. “And it never really wildly bothered me. If I feel that I’m healthy enough and things like that, then fine. Sometimes you don’t want to outstay your welcome.
“I’m going to say this: I’ve been delighted, absolutely delighted, it has been a privilege managing this side. I’m delighted we’ve got here. It’s interesting that there was a period of time where, particularly after Scotland here in June of last year, if I had mentioned contracts to you, you would have been turning around and saying, ‘What are you talking about?’ Thankfully it has turned around at the minute but I’m just too long in this game to know that you can’t make strong assumptions without the competition being finished. And I think that’s a point.
“Because of the World Cup qualifying games coming up relatively quickly, I can see the viewpoint of wanting to get something tied down beforehand. But I actually see that clearly but I see my side too.”
O’Neill does say that at one point he told Delaney that he would like to have “a think about it”, but the general tone appears to be that his preference is to stay on but to leave sorting out the details of any contract extension until after France when, he hopes, he will be certain that he is regarded to bring the team forward.
In the meantime, he says, more than once: “You like to go in having an edge.”