Michael O’Neill ‘free to hold talks with Scotland’

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is free to hold talks over the Scotland job in the coming days, it is understood.

Irish Football Association board members gathered for a scheduled meeting on Friday afternoon but a long-standing agreement with O’Neill means permission was a formality.

The Scottish Football Association approached its counterpart in Belfast on Wednesday after identifying O’Neill as the man it wants to succeed Gordon Strachan as Scotland manager.

However, the IFA is hopeful of retaining O’Neill’s services and has prepared a counter-offer in a bid to fend off interest from across the water.

The SFA would be liable for compensation if it persuades O’Neill to swap jobs but, under the terms of the 48-year-old’s contract, the body would not have to fork out as much as the likes of a Premier League club in England.

The former Brechin and Shamrock Rovers boss is under contract until June 2020 but the Scots made their move after he narrowly missed out on leading his country to the World Cup finals.

O’Neill signed his current deal in March 2016, before leading his men to the knockout stages of the European Championship in France.

The Edinburgh-based former Hibernian and Dundee United player is approaching his sixth anniversary in charge of Northern Ireland.

Scotland defender Christophe Berra is full of admiration for the work O’Neill has done at Windsor Park.

“He’s done a great, great job at Northern Ireland,” the 41-cap defender said. “His stock is high right now so they have every right (to go for him).

“He is a British manager, will know a lot of the players, he lives in Edinburgh, so I think it would be very suitable for him. But it’s down to him if he wants to stay at Northern Ireland or go back to club football.”

Berra added: “In the last two campaigns Northern Ireland have done superbly well and they were very unfortunate not to qualify for the World Cup or even get into at least extra-time (against Switzerland).

“His stock is high just now, he’s done really well and if Scotland do get him, it’s a great job to have.”