After turning down the chance to succeed Gordon Strachan as manager of the Scotland national team, Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has since penned a new deal that will keep him at the helm until 2024. So what does this mean for the team going forward?
The 48-year-old was certainly tempted by the offer from the SFA but clearly feels that there is still plenty to be achieved in his current role. Talk of an ageing squad has not put him off, with the current group of players still capable of seeing out another qualifying campaign. The chance to lay the groundwork for the future will also appeal to a man who obviously has his sight set on a bigger role down the line.
His trajectory so far has taken him from club roles at Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers (where he won the Premier League twice) to his current international role, in which he led his country to their first ever European Championship in 2016, guiding them to the second round where they eventually fell to Wales.
With such a strong pedigree, it is no surprise that O’Neill perhaps has eyes on a bigger position in the long-term. In fact, his infectious ambition has been integral to Northern Ireland’s success so far. Of course, there is also a danger that his stock could fall should Northern Ireland regress during the next couple of years. However, his trajectory has shown no sign of dipping so far, so much so that the Irish FA have also made him Chief Football Officer, a role that will see him involved football development and elite performance programs within the country.
Having put the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup at the playoff stage (under controversial circumstances) behind them, the next big test for the Green and White Army will be the Nations League matches against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina which take place in the autumn. Many betting tips websites already have the 26th-ranked team down as outsiders in League B Group 3 but that won’t bother O’Neill and his men who are used to being written off before a ball has even been kicked. However, punters might want to wait to see how they fare in their upcoming friendlies against Kore Republic, Panama and Costa Rica before casting judgement on the team’s credentials in the inaugural edition of this tournament.
While nobody will be getting their hopes up, there is a feeling that O’Neill’s men will be well placed to make it to the next European Championships due to be held across 12 host nations in 2020. If he can achieve that feat, he will have surely have earned the right to a shot at a high profile job at club or national level. However, if he does achieve that goal, he will still have four years left on his contract and may prefer instead to have another shot at leading his nation to a World Cup finals.