herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

O'Neill playing hardball

Ireland boss holds all the cards in deal talks and has FAI where he wants them

19 December 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney and assistant manager Roy Keane, outside the Trianon Palace Versailles, where the Republic of Ireland squad will stay as part of their basecamp facilities for UEFA Euro 2016. Versailles, France. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
19 December 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney and assistant manager Roy Keane, outside the Trianon Palace Versailles, where the Republic of Ireland squad will stay as part of their basecamp facilities for UEFA Euro 2016. Versailles, France. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

It's all very odd. What is it, exactly, that Martin O'Neill needs to talk to FAI CEO John Delaney about when he sits down to discuss a new deal before the end of the month?

Money? Image rights? A few tickets for the Euro 2016 finals? In reality, it doesn't take a genius to figure this out.

O'Neill has the FAI right where he wants them.

His current salary is thought to be worth £1m a year and the word is that O'Neill is seeking a significant increase. Let's be honest, he would be crazy if he didn't look for a raise.

Place that thought to the front of your mind when you consider the comments which emanated from O'Neill via FIFA's website just after Christmas.

Extension

"I genuinely don't know," he said when asked about the possibility of a contract extension.

He knew well that a comment like that would raise eyebrows and he added a bit of backspin just to make sure he was understood.

"There seems to be a feeling that our employers would like us to stay on, so we'll sit down with them in the New Year to discuss things. At the moment, I have a very open mind on it all."

If those comments worried the FAI, they should have: if for no other reason than the context of a contract negotiation. Hardball is always a good strategy when you're on the high ground.

Since then, there have been attempts at clarification but his latest comments on the matter seem as wishy-washy and uncertain as ever.

"I saw John and he wants to get things moving in the next few weeks so I think there'll probably be some sort of chat about it," was O'Neill's response to journalists after the Soccer Writer's awards dinner.

O'Neill is a man who considers his words very carefully indeed. He rarely speaks off the cuff and often during the 2016 campaign, his press conferences were a fine exercise in obfuscation.

We got used to his pathological hesitancy and by the time the play-off against Bosnia was done, he had earned the right to do or say pretty much anything he wanted. Results gave him that grace. When he chose to turn his searchlight on Eamon Dunphy and the RTÉ panel, he used harsh words like "drivel" and "rubbish" with great certainty. No need to insert qualifying clauses as he usually does. He knew what he wanted to say.

So far, he has said absolutely nothing which could be considered definitive about his interest in continuing as Ireland team manager after the dust settles on France.

This should be relatively straight-forward. If he wants a raise, he's earned it and it is difficult to imagine the FAI pinching pennies, particularly with the continuing backing of Denis O'Brien and the flow of cash which the Euro 2016 finals will generate.

Sources suggest that there is a big gap between the two positions and perhaps this reflects the fact that the Aviva debt remains a ball and chain around the FAI's metaphorical leg.

But cashflow from qualification should surely provide room to negotiate an improvement in O'Neill's terms.

On the FAI's side, any decision they have to make is a no-brainer.

In the second half of the qualifying campaign, O'Neill clearly found a way to make this group of players better than the sum of their parts and he delivered on the job specification.

Looking forward to the World Cup in Russia in 2018, the FAI must view a group containing Wales, Austria, Serbia, Moldova and Georgia as manageable.

Back in July when the draw was made, Ireland's circumstances were a whole lot bleaker, but even then, the consensus assessment was that the route to Russia was full of opportunity.

Now, with a win over world champions Germany and the successful negotiation of a play-off against Bosnia in the bank, Group D doesn't look bad at all.

It would be madness to upset what has become winning formula. Sure, there are still doubts, but the idea of starting again with a new manager is just ludicrous at this stage.

There is one other possibility. Perhaps O'Neill is keeping options open because he still has a hankering for the Premier League.

A half dozen clubs from top to bottom will be hiring this summer and he is certainly back in the limelight in England.

But management in the Premier League is now a blood sport. Would he really stick his backside into that bacon-slicer again?

Hardly. This looks like a prolonged haggling session, one which O'Neill is controlling and one which he will ultimately win.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News