Martin O’Neill is staying on as Republic of Ireland manager after turning down the chance to manage Stoke City.
He is expected to sign a new contract with the FAI — copper-fastening the verbal agreement which was made last October — before he attends the Uefa Nations League draw in Switzerland on Wednesday week.
It is also hoped that the Derryman will address the media in Dublin later this week, in what would be his first public comments after a series of dramatic developments in an already tortuous saga left the hot seat in the Potteries still vacant and, for a time over the weekend, the position of Ireland’s senior manager shrouded in confusion.
The news that O’Neill had opted to reject Stoke’s advances first emerged in a well-informed report from England yesterday afternoon, before the manager’s intention to remain with the Republic was confirmed last night by FAI sources.
According to a Telegraph Sport story, Roy Keane played what was described as “a key role” in persuading O’Neill to stay with Ireland, and the report further suggested that one of the main reasons for the manager’s decision was that he “did not want to break” the verbal agreement he made with the FAI last October.
Having not signed a new contract, O’Neill was perfectly entitled to entertain job offers elsewhere but the obvious substance to the Stoke connection means the manager will still have searching questions to answer about the nature of his commitment to the Irish job.
At the end of a week in which he appeared to go from front-runner to back-up for the Premier League job, O’Neill’s appearance — along with all his coaching staff — at the Soccer Writers Awards banquet in Dublin on Friday was widely interpreted as a sign that the current management team would be staying on with Ireland.
However, the manager declined to answer questions from the media who were hosting the event. And there was also continued silence from the FAI, though, privately, they now too seemed to believe that O’Neill would not be going anywhere.
At that point, former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores was fully expected to be named the new Stoke boss but all that suddenly changed again on Saturday morning when the Spaniard announced that he was staying at Espanyol.
Before that development, O’Neill had reportedly told Stoke that he was no longer interested in making the move to the Bet365 Stadium but, after Flores backed out, the club then returned to O’Neill with a firm offer to succeed Mark Hughes, leaving it up to the Derryman to decide if his time in the Irish job was finally at an end.
The answer Stoke got was not the one they wanted to hear as, having kept FAI boss John Delaney abreast of developments throughout, O’Neill reaffirmed his desire to remain with Ireland, along with Roy Keane and the rest of the senior international coaching staff.
Before last night’s confirmation of the status quo, and against a backdrop of mounting criticism of how the whole situation has been handled by both O’Neill and the FAI, Jon Walters had robustly defended the manager’s stewardship of Ireland and suggested that he and Keane would be the perfect fit for the job at Stoke.
Burnley’s Walters said he was speaking as a Stoke fan and an Ireland international when he told Match of the Day 2 yesterday that the club should be “clamouring to appoint” O’Neill.
Defending O’Neill against the criticism he faced after the crushing World Cup loss to Denmark, Walters pointed to the Derryman’s management record with Ireland as one of the reasons he would still be an attractive option to a Premier League club.
“With Ireland we were fourth favourites to get out of the group with Serbia and Austria, Wales, everyone gave us no chance,” he said.
“A lot of people are judging him on the Denmark game, which was a terrible result, but if you look at how we’ve done under him with Ireland I can only sing his praises.
“I can’t speak for him but if you look at our record under him, how we did in the Euros, where we got to in the group. A couple of decisions, like a winner taken away from us against Austria, and we got down to one game.
“You can’t be judged on that one game against Denmark, it’s only the players who can produce on the pitch. If you look at his record at Ireland and at previous clubs, if I was Stoke I would be desperate to get him.”
Walters also praised O’Neill’s man-management.
“As a player, you want to play for him,” he said. “If you ask any of his former players they’d say the same.”
Walters also said he thought Roy Keane would have had a role to play alongside O’Neill at Stoke.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s not to say Martin is a soft touch. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of him. As a player, he will tell you as much as Roy.”
Relegation-threatened Stoke had originally hoped to have Mark Hughes’ successor installed ahead of tonight’s game against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
But with the club now having been turned down by both Flores and O’Neill in quick succession, it is believed that former Aston Villa and Wolves manager Paul Lambert is among the alternative options under consideration.
Meanwhile, reports last night suggest Ryan Giggs will be appointed the new manager of Wales today.
The former Manchester United star is set to agree a four-year deal to takeover from Chris Coleman.
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