Michael O'Neill: Five potential candidates to replace Northern Ireland manager

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
'I'm used to massive challenges' - NI boss O'Neill relishing Stoke job

Nothing's ever simple in football.

Michael O'Neill is the new Stoke City manager. He is also, technically, still the Northern Ireland manager. For now, at least.

In a surprising twist, O'Neill, while also being charged with the task of salvaging the Potters' season, will guide the Green and White Army through any potential Euro 2020 play-offs in March.

While O'Neill isn't quite gone, the Irish Football Association have presumably launched their quest for his successor. Here are five potential candidates to take up the mantle.

Stephen Robinson

The Motherwell boss is, for many, the ideal candidate, and it's not hard to see why.

Robinson, 44, saw his reputation soar in Scotland after guiding Well to two cup finals during the 2017-18 season.

The following campaign had its difficulties, but he has led the Lanarkshire side to third in the current Scottish Premiership table behind Celtic and Rangers.

Lisburn-born Robinson's leadership skills at Fir Park have not gone unnoticed, however, with Edinburgh clubs Hearts and Hibernian thought to be interested in his services.

That may make Robinson difficult for the IFA to get, but having worked as a coach during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, he can surely count O'Neill as one of his many admirers.

Tommy Wright

The former Northern Ireland goalkeeper is another name around whom speculation is mounting.

Currently in charge of St Johnstone, the 56-year-old Ballyclare man didn't give much away when asked about possibly succeeding O'Neill.

"My focus is just on [facing] Hibs," he said before the Saints' meeting with Hibernian on Saturday. "I'm a great believer in whatever's going to happen is going to happen."

Michael O'Neill takes on task of reviving Stoke City

While unsurprisingly unforthcoming, there is a possibility that Wright would be tempted into returning home having worked as part of O'Neill's backroom staff during the early part of his reign.

He also managed Limavady United, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery before leading St Johnstone to Scottish Cup success in 2014, having replaced compatriot Steve Lomas a year earlier.

A fine goalkeeper on his day, would he be a safe pair of hands in the Windsor Park hotseat?

Ian Baraclough

The current Northern Ireland Under-21 manager is another whose stock has risen in recent years.

A League of Ireland winner with Sligo Rovers, the 48-year-old has attracted praise having guided the Green and White Army's youngsters to eye-catching victories over Spain and Iceland during his two-year tenure.

Baraclough has been in charge of the Northern Ireland Under-21 team since 2017
Baraclough has been in charge of the Northern Ireland Under-21 team since 2017

The former Queens Park Rangers defender, who has managed Scunthorpe United and Motherwell, also served as Stephen Robinson's assistant manager at Oldham Athletic.

An up-and-comer within the IFA, Baraclough has a strong case and the fact that he knows the current Under-21 squad well makes him as well-equipped as anyone for the challenge of bringing through the next generation.

Martin O'Neill

With more than 30 years in management, including successful spells at Leicester City, Aston Villa and Celtic, O'Neill towers above the others on this list in terms of top-level credentials.

The 67-year-old also has considerable experience as an international manager, having led the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2016 during his five-year spell.

However, the latter stages of his Republic tenure were plagued by poor results, the nadir of which was a humiliating 5-1 home defeat by Denmark in their World Cup 2018 play-off.

Martin O'Neill led the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2016 qualification
Martin O'Neill led the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2016 qualification

After leaving that role in November 2018, he returned to management with Nottingham Forest in January only to be sacked five months later.

O'Neill also captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup during an international career which saw him win 64 caps. It won't be a surprise to hear his name mentioned with increasing regularity over the next few months.

David Healy

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer, Healy would certainly be a popular appointment among supporters, especially with those who have fond memories of him dismantling the defences of Spain and England in his international heyday.

But the 40-year-old has developed into an impressive young manager, too, during his four years with Linfield.

Healy has won two Irish Premiership titles since taking over as Linfield boss in 2015
Healy has won two Irish Premiership titles since taking over as Linfield boss in 2015

With two Irish Premiership titles already in his trophy cabinet, Healy led the Blues to the brink of Europa League qualification in the summer, which won him many new admirers.

He has been patrolling the home manager's technical area at Windsor Park for four years, but it's difficult to overstate the gulf in standard between the Irish League and international football.

With the World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign likely to be the last hurrah for several of Northern Ireland's stalwarts, the IFA may look to someone with more full-time football experience.

But stranger things certainly have happened and it's important to remember that O'Neill's last managerial role before taking the Northern Ireland reins was with Shamrock Rovers.

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