herald

Tuesday 14 August 2018

O'Neill has a call to make on his future

Bilic favourite for Potters job but Martin is still a contender

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Two of the men who went to battle with Martin O'Neill in the last few months are having a very different New Year experience.

For Denmark boss Age Hareide, it's all smiles and sunshine, as this week he's in Abu Dhabi, on a training camp where home-based Danish players try to force their way into his World Cup squad. Hard for anyone in Ireland to feel sorry for Hareide, working this week in weather conditions predicted to be "mostly sunny and pleasant".

And Chris Coleman? The same Chris Coleman who was left shattered and bereft by Ireland's smash-and-grab in Cardiff: he's in the cold. He's down.

Down at the bottom of England's second tier, in charge of a Sunderland side who are showing no signs of their ability to avoid relegation.

From a national hero at Euro 2016 to the man who shepherded Sunderland into the third tier of English football.

Struggling Sunderland manager Chris Coleman might have a few wise words for Martin O’Neill if the Derryman is contemplating
a return to club football. Photo: PA Wire
Struggling Sunderland manager Chris Coleman might have a few wise words for Martin O’Neill if the Derryman is contemplating a return to club football. Photo: PA Wire

Candidate

You'd have to wonder if Coleman wishes he could go back in time, opt to stick with Wales, and take what comes his way in the draw for the Nations League in 15 days' time. Certainly looks more attractive than trying to get the better of Burton Albion in a relegation fight.

Maybe the stale bread of international football would be better than the poison of club football.

So plenty for O'Neill to think on this week as he is a potential candidate for a job in club management.

Listed (with the bookies, for all that's worth) on Sunday as the favourite to succeed Mark Hughes at Stoke City, O'Neill has since dropped way down in the betting. Last night, Slaven Bilic was the odds-on favourite (1/5), with current Derby County boss Gary Rowett next, and the two O'Neills (Martin and Michael) drifting, from 7/1 to 9/1.

Rowett is very highly-rated but it could cost Stoke a lot of money, and time, to prise him away from his deal at Derby. And Rowett may feel that he'd be more likely to taste Premier League football next season by staying with Derby.

Bilic has the advantage of being ready to start work as he's out of work. Seeing as he has yet to sign a previously-agreed deal with the FAI, O'Neill is also (technically) out of contract and should Stoke decide he is their man, ahead of Bilic, the only obstacle would be O'Neill's reluctance. But that's where Coleman comes back into the conversation. He joined a club which was floundering and is still struggling.

Stoke are also looking very poorly right now and there's little to suggest that this squad of players can show the fight, and quality, needed to stay up, even with O'Neill's renowned motivational skills.

If Stoke decide to make an approach for O'Neill, it's not impossible for the notion of a double-jobbing approach to emerge.

There is only one real commitment to Ireland between now and the end of the Premier League season: Friday March 23rd, when Ireland have committed to playing a friendly away to Turkey, a match preceded by a four-day training camp over in Turkey.

Stoke have no fixture between March 17th and March 31st. So O'Neill could, technically, manage to do both jobs.

Whether he wants to try it, to lose momentum with Ireland and possibly lose Premier League status with Stoke as well, only he can decide. But Chris Coleman might have a view.

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