Saturday 22 September 2018

O'Neill to avoid foxes' lair and stay on

Despite bets FAI believe O'Neill won't leave Irish

Martin O’Neill enjoying a round of golf at the K Club yesterday
Martin O’Neill enjoying a round of golf at the K Club yesterday
Republic of Ireland Manager, Martin O'Neill pictured on the golf course at the K Club. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

AND Martin O'Neill thought he was in for a nice, quiet summer?

A trip to Ireland for the FAI AGM next weekend to perform one of the key roles of his employment with the association - shaking hands with a variety of blazers and sponsors.

Then a flight to Russia to attend the draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign on Saturday week. Maybe a spin to Oriel Park to see Dundalk in the Champions League and a nice and easy build up to the next bout of qualifiers for Euro 2016 in eight weeks' time.

But all of a sudden, O'Neill's summer peace has been shattered as the Ireland manager - and not the assistant manager, for a change - is the focus of media-wide attention.

In brief, O'Neill has been heavily linked with the manager's job at Leicester City, to the extent that one UK bookmakers have stopped taking bets on O'Neill for the Foxes post.

In a lot of ways, the 'O'Neill for Leicester' story ticks a lot of boxes.

The post is vacant, due to Nigel Pearson's sacking recently, and O'Neill is not some managerial rookie with potential but no proven track record but is instead a coach with vast Premier League experience.

There would be no 'Martin Who?' headlines if he does land the job as the 63-year-old still still revered at the club for his feats there as manager (1995-2000). He led Leicester into the Premier League, into Europe and on to Wembley.

After recent PR disasters which saw the manager's son sacked from the player staff due to a sex scandal while in Asia, O'Neill would bring credibility and comfort to a club which is desperate to foster a family-friendly image.

There are reports in the local media that back up the idea of O'Neill returning: the Leicester Mercury reported last night that City "are extremely interested in talking to O'Neill about the position and an approach is expected over the weekend".

Many find that hard to believe. O'Neill will be 64 at his next birthday, and while Louis van Gaal (63) and Dick Advocaat (67) will manage in the Premier League next season, club chairmen are more fond of young coaches like Garry Monk, Eddie Howe and Watford's new boss (50). O'Neill's last spell in Premier League management did not end well and managers tend not to get second chances.

If an approach does come, the FAI - for all the faults of the current regime and criticisms of O'Neill's style and management - would be reluctant to change mid-campaign.

There is the option for the FAI to allow O'Neill leave, collect a nice compo payoff and push Roy Keane into the hot seat for the last four games. Keane could even excite the Lansdowne Road crowd more than O'Neill. who has yet to really bond with the support here.

But O'Neill is unlikely to leave with the job half-done. Quitting while the hard part of qualification lies ahead would look badly on his CV, and while a half-decent end to the Euro 2016 campaign with Ireland could (possibly) get him a new deal from the FAI, a bad start to the Premier League season at Leicester could see O'Neill out the door within weeks. When O'Neill left Leicester for Celtic in 2000, it was on good terms and with the job done. Any exit from Ireland now could sully all he has tried to do.



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