The future of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has been thrown into serious doubt this week amid interest from Stoke City.
O’Neill has verbally agreed a new two-year contract with the FAI to lead the Boys in Green into the Euro 2020 qualification campaign, but the reaction to Ireland’s 5-1 World Cup playoff defeat to Denmark in November has made him consider his options. The interest from Stoke, which is set to intensify in the coming days, has complicated matters and could lead to the 65-year-old leaving Ireland behind for one last crack at the Premier League.
Should O’Neill depart, replacing him will not be an easy task. Wales and Scotland are currently in the middle of manager searches that have gone on for weeks now, while Northern Ireland could be in the same boat if Michael O’Neill decides to depart.
Here we look at five names that could be next in line for the Irish dugout.
Roy Keane. The continuity option. Keane has been O’Neill’s assistant for over four years, and was in the frame initially when the job last became available in 2013. It had long been assumed that Keane would eventually succeed O’Neill when the time came, but the entire management team is under scrutiny after Ireland’s World Cup exit, and that’s before considering the possibility that he could join O’Neill at Stoke.
The former Man United captain would still be the favourite for the role, however.
Mick McCarthy. Re-appointing McCarthy, even after fifteen years, would be a divisive decision. The Ipswich Town manager has done a decent if unspectacular job at Portman Road over the last few years and fared well as Ireland boss at the turn of the century – he would be a competent choice were it not for all the baggage that he would bring. Nonetheless, beggars can’t be choosers and McCarthy would have some support were he to be put forward as a candidate.
Stephen Kenny. Kenny has enhanced his reputation massively over the last few years with his achievements, both at home and in Europe, with Dundalk. The 46-year-old already has two decades of managerial experiences and in that time he has won four Premier Division titles, two FAI Cups, five League Cups and brought Dunfermline to the Scottish Cup final in 2007.
He showed his ability to get his sides to punch above their weight in Dundalk’s Europa League run in 2017, and his reputation as one of the best managers the League of Ireland has produced should make him a strong candidate.
Michael O’Neill. Convincing Michael O’Neill to cross the border and join the Republic of Ireland would be seen as a massive coup for the FAI. The former Shamrock Rovers boss has worked wonders with Northern Ireland since taking the reins in 2011, bringing the national side to their first ever European Championships in 2016 and within a whisker of a first World Cup appearance since 1986 last November.
Like Kenny, O’Neill is highly proficient at getting players to play at a level above themselves and for managerial ability alone, would be a popular choice.
Marcelo Bielsa. The nuclear option. If the FAI wanted to move completely away form the O’Neill’s conservative approach, then why not appoint a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word?
Bielsa suddenly became available again having been sacked at Lille after only a few months for breaching club protocol (by visiting a sick friend in Chile). Indeed, volatility is one of the main characteristics that Bielsa brings to any job (including at Lazio where he quit after just two days), so watching the former Argentina manager work with the FAI on a daily basis would be a strong basis for a four-part Netflix documentary in furure years.
The 62-year-old has been hailed as a managerial genius by the likes of Pep Guardiola and his recent roles suggest that he enjoys managing in Europe, but convincing him of the project and financing his wages would be major stumbling blocks.