John Delaney has insisted Martin O’Neill is “100% committed” to the Ireland job but he doesn’t expect speculation about the manager’s position to end when he signs a new contract next week.
The FAI boss revealed both parties have “an understanding” that O’Neill will continue to be free to talk to any club that wishes to approach him.
“You see that in all strands of football,” he maintained.
Delaney also said a “number of clubs” have approached O’Neill during his time as Ireland manager and made a point of noting the Derryman has rejected all suitors who have come for him thus far.
O’Neill will sign a new contract with the FAI next week, having turned down an opportunity to manage Stoke City.
“He’s 100% committed to Ireland,” Delaney said at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
“You’re going to speak to him next week (at the Uefa Nations League draw in Switzerland) and he’ll tell you exactly how he feels about bringing in younger players and all that comes with that, how he’s looking forward to the draw and looking forward to trying to qualify for the European Championships.”
Asked to comment on reports there is a clause in the manager’s contract which allows him to speak with clubs who express an interest in him, Delaney replied: “It’s not so much a clause, it’s an understanding, and there have been many approaches to Martin in his time since he joined us as manager.
“We’ve always had a very open and honest relationship with him, and if any approaches are made he will inform us. And if an approach is made to him, he can go and speak to whoever wants to approach him. You see that in all strands of football. You see that with players leaving Liverpool or other national associations as we speak today.
“The way it works is very simple. There are a number of clubs through the time of his contract who have approached Martin O’Neill and on every occasion he has rejected those offers and stayed managing the Republic of Ireland.
“Martin O’Neill, if he wanted to manage Stoke City or other clubs, could have done so by now. But he doesn’t. He wants to manage the Republic of Ireland and he has made that clear. If an employee wants to leave an employer, nobody can stop them. All you will do at that given stage is get the compensation that is due to you.”
While Delaney said he didn’t want to get into discussing employee contract details, he did make the claim that, had the manager left for Stoke City, the FAI would still have been due compensation, even though a new deal to stay on as Ireland manager had not been signed at that point.
“But we’re talking about something that hasn’t happened,” he added.
Despite the impression created last week that O’Neill might have been on the brink of reneging on his verbal agreement with the FAI, Delaney made a point of highlighting the loyalty he has shown throughout his managerial career.
“What I do know about Martin O’Neill is that he always had a very open and trusting relationship with the FAI,” he said.
“One thing he’s always shown is loyalty to his employers, if you look at the length of the terms he’s served with every club. Everybody is entitled, if they want, to speak to somebody who has approached you. The bottom line is he wants to manage the Republic of Ireland, he wants to sign a contract, he wants to be at the draw next week, and he wants to bring us to Euro 2020.”
Asked how close he felt O’Neill had actually come to joining Stoke, the FAI CEO said: “When he spoke to me be about Stoke, the indications he gave to me were such that I would have been surprised had he gone there. He met them on Saturday and informed me on Sunday that he had respectfully declined their offer and he would be staying with the Republic of Ireland.
“And I believe that was a bigger offer he got from Stoke. When you see him next week, let him talk to you about what offers were made to him and the extent of those. Let him tell you that.”
According to Delaney, it was the crushing disappointment of November’s play-off defeat to Denmark which first prompted O’Neill to reconsider his position. “The board, in October, decided we wanted Martin to stay and we believe he’s the best man for the job given what he’s done for us,” said the CEO.
“And that’s got lost slightly too in translation because he has got us to a major tournament, got us to the last 16, beaten by France as we know, and he got us into the (World Cup) play-offs from a group where we were seeded fourth. So he has done a reasonably... very good job for us, ok?
“After the Denmark game, which was a blow — he’ll tell you that himself — he took time out to see if he wanted to stay with the Republic of Ireland. That’s understandable.
“This is not Premier League football where you have to appoint a manager within a week. Our next game is Turkey at the end of March and he took some time.”
To the charge that the whole affair has been damaging to the FAI, Delaney remarked: “Ah listen, you will probably tell me it has been. No. At the end of the day the manager of the Republic of Ireland is Martin O’Neill, ok? He will sign his contract next week, we’ll get our list of fixtures and on we go and, please God, when we’re here in two year’s time, we’re talking about the European Championships that he is leading us to.”
And he opted for a wry response when asked what lessons the FAI should learn from recent events.
“I think the lesson to be learned is please don’t get beaten 5-1 by Denmark again. It would have been great if we’d qualified. I don’t think any of us — including the manager — had factored in the defeat last November which required a period of reflection from his point of view.”
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