Michael O’Neill’s time as Northern Ireland manager comes to an end
The 50-year-old will now focus solely on Stoke
Michael O’Neill has stepped down as Northern Ireland manager after eight and a half years in the role.
A mutual decision was made for O’Neill to leave his position due to proposed revised international match scheduling by UEFA in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“After careful consideration and following discussions with the Irish FA I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill was named Stoke boss in early November, but remained in charge of Northern Ireland in order to see out the Euro 2020 – now pushed back to 2021 – qualification process.
However, it seems likely UEFA will reschedule the play-off matches deciding the last four places at next year’s rescheduled European Championship after the first Nations League matches in September.
O’Neill added: “I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the UEFA 2020 play-off game versus Bosnia and Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible.
“It was important to leave the association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight year tenure.
“Throughout my time here, I have been fortunate to have worked with many great coaching, medical and support staff who have all contributed to our successes and shared in some great moments.
“As for my players, past and present, I would like to thank them all for an overwhelming level of commitment and professionalism that has helped to deliver so many unforgettable highs and great experiences for us all.”
O’Neill was appointed in December 2011 and presided over their run to Euro 2016 in France – the first time in 30 years they had qualified for a major tournament.
They made it through their group after a famous win over Ukraine before exiting at the last-16 stage after defeat to Wales in Paris.
Irish FA CEO Patrick Nelson said: “It is within a unique set of circumstances that we bring our unforgettable chapter with Michael O’Neill to a close.
“His time as manager, as well as chief football officer at the Irish FA, will be remembered as some of the headiest for our fans and most successful for our players.
“We were all looking forward to having Michael back to lead the team in March for the game against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but, for obvious reasons, it simply wasn’t to be.
“Now that we have a clearer sense from UEFA on their next programme of games, it is the right time to move forward in a new direction to give Michael’s successor the best possible chance of planning for and competing in the Nations League, as well as gearing up for those crucial play-off games that will hopefully take us back to Euros next summer.”