Michael O’Neill focused on Northern Ireland job despite Aberdeen links

The 54-year-old is among the names mentioned as a possible replacement for Neil Warnock.

Ian Parker
Thursday 14 March 2024 22:30 GMT
Michael O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)
Michael O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has shrugged off speculation linking him with the vacant job at Aberdeen but said he could not rule out a return to club football in the future.

O’Neill, 54, is among the names mentioned as a possible replacement for Neil Warnock, who stepped down as Dons boss on Saturday less than an hour after guiding the club to the Scottish Cup semi-finals, becoming the fifth manager to leave Pittodrie in the last three years.

After naming his Northern Ireland squad for the upcoming friendlies away to Romania and Scotland, O’Neill was braced for questions on his future.

“I don’t really give it much thought,” O’Neill told the PA news agency.

“As I’ve said, I was at Aberdeen against St Mirren two or three weeks ago, I was there to see two Northern Ireland players who play for St Mirren.

“That’s a story that has been in the Scottish media. I’m not in control of anything like that. My focus is always here. I signed a five-and-a-half-year contact when I came back.

“I’m not in control of what people speculate or what people write and it’s not something I give a lot of attention to.”

O’Neill returned to the Northern Ireland job in December 2022. He had previously been in charge for eight years, guiding the team to Euro 2016, before leaving for Stoke in early 2020.

Asked if he wanted to manage in club football again, O’Neill added: “I would never close the door on that but when I came back here I came back knowing the job that was in hand.

That's a story that has been in the Scottish media. I'm not in control of anything like that. My focus is always here

Michael O'Neill

“I felt I had a group of players who had possibly one last campaign in them. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case because a number of those senior players missed the whole campaign with injury or some retired.

“We’re now in a different phase, we’re having to go through a redevelopment, to build a team with very young players.

“If I do leave at some point and go to club football, the IFA did very well out of me going to Stoke and that’s a bridge we would cross if I ever came to it, but it’s not something I’m focused on at this time.”

That redevelopment project will continue in Bucharest and Glasgow with O’Neill again forced to name a young squad.

Jonny Evans is missing with a calf problem while Stuart Dallas and Corry Evans remain injured, with Steven Davis having announced his retirement in January after more than a year on the sidelines.

After a Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in which a hugely inexperienced Northern Ireland won only three games, O’Neill is hoping to see further growth from his young players.

“This is another opportunity to develop the team,” O’Neill said.

“We have as many as 12 players in the squad who are either uncapped or in single figures so there’s not a huge amount of experience.

“We have to expose them to a level and in these two games we’re playing two teams who are going to the Euro finals in the summer.

“Romania won their group and had a great campaign, unbeaten in 10 games, and Scotland finished second behind Spain.

“It shows the players if they’re going to have to qualify for a major tournament they’re going to have to finish above teams of the calibre of Scotland and Romania. These games are a benchmark for us going forward.”

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