Saturday 19 November 2011

O'Neill Not Seeking Northern Post

Martin O'Neill gave the Irish FA this week the one-word answer they didn’t want to hear — “no.”

The former Northern Ireland captain flew into Belfast yesterday, prompting speculation that he might reconsider an offer to succeed Nigel Worthington as international manager.

But all the IFA got from the 59-year-old was an offer of help in their search to appoint a new man.

O’Neill only had to say the word, of course, and the job was his. Instead, he suggested that the Association goes for “somebody young and enthusiastic.”

Should the IFA follow that advice, then Martin’s namesake Michael O’Neill and Jim Magilton, both relatively youthful in managerial terms, will be top of their list.

The Association will begin talking to prospective candidates next week and so far Michael O’Neill, Magilton, Iain Dowie, Avram Grant and Dave Jones have declared an interest.

Speaking at yesterday’s CLIC Sargent Sportsman lunch for children and young people with cancer, Martin O’Neill said: “The Northern Ireland job would be terrific but at this minute club management is something that I've been used to for quite some considerable time.

“And from that viewpoint, it (club management) is something I would want to do at this moment.”

The former Celtic and Aston Villa boss, who would be a hot favourite for the Blackburn Rovers job should the under-pressure Steve Kean be dismissed, added: “If the IFA thought I could help their search for a new man I’d be happy to assist.”

It’s understood that the IFA would welcome Martin O’Neill’s input, and are planning to contact him about reviewing candidates.

O'Neill himself is hoping that the three former Northern Ireland internationals at least get the chance to be interviewed to succeed Nigel Worthington.

“I still think myself that somebody young and enthusiastic and with a bit of managerial experience could pull the team around,” he added.

“It would be disappointing if they (Magilton, Dowie and Michael O'Neill) didn't at least get a chance to be interviewed for the job.”

Grant and Jones, like Magilton and Dowie, are currently without a club although Magilton helps out Michael O’Neill as a consultant at Shamrock Rovers.

Israeli Grant’s recent track record is not particularly good. His last game as a manager was at the end of last season, when he witnessed West Ham United get relegated from the Premier League.

A year earlier, Portsmouth suffered the same fate under his stewardship.

Grant does, however have experience at international level, having managed Israel to two unsuccessful qualifying campaigns prior to his arrival in English football.

The 56-year-old has, however, led Chelsea to the Champions League final (in 2008, when they lost on penalties to Manchester United), and to runners-up spot in the Premier League.

No other candidate can boast of taking a team to such lofty heights — although Grant’s critics will say the team, which had been largely built by predecessor Jose Mourinho, should have won at least one trophy that season.

They did, remember, also lose the League Cup final to Spurs.

Jones, meanwhile, took Cardiff to an FA Cup final but it was always a case of ‘so near, but yet to far’ when it came to promotion to the Premier League.

He was sacked at the end of last season, after another failure to get past the play-offs.

The Irish FA have not outlined any timetable for an appointment and are unlikely to unveil their new international manager this side of Christmas.