Michael O'Neill: Stoke City boss leaves role as Northern Ireland manager

O'Neill reflects on time as NI manager

Michael O'Neill has permanently left his role as Northern Ireland manager after eight years in charge.

O'Neill was set to lead Northern Ireland into March's postponed Euros qualifier with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

However with Uefa proposing to reschedule the game in the autumn, the 50-year-old will now solely focus on his job as Stoke City manager.

"I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside," said O'Neill.

"With the current situation with the coronavirus and the recent rescheduling by Uefa in terms of when the play-off game is likely to be played, having had discussions with the IFA it made sense for everybody," he added.

"It would be difficult given my commitments with Stoke City to take the game in October and potentially in November. It's not a situation that would be fair on anyone."

O'Neill was appointed Northern Ireland manager in December 2011 and guided his country to the Euro 2016 finals in France.

His success in the international set-up presented an opportunity at club level with Championship side Stoke in November. However, O'Neill was set to see the current qualification campaign through to its conclusion before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

It seems likely Uefa will reschedule the play-off matches, which will decide the last four places at next year's rescheduled European Championship, after the first Nations League matches in September.

"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," said O'Neill, who added that he "would have loved" to help NI qualify for another major tournament.

Looking to the future under a new boss, outgoing manager O'Neill said he believed there were players in the squad "who could still reach big milestones in their international careers".

"Whether that be 75 caps or 100 caps or in the case of Steven Davis the opportunity to break Pat Jennings's record I think Northern Ireland players now value their international careers, where that wasn't always the case.

"The new manager I think has to keep all the senior players on board and integrate the younger players. In the last campaign we had a really good blend in the squad and the players enjoyed spending time with each other."

Michael O'Neill
O'Neill led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 - their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup

O'Neill also paid tribute to all the members of his backroom team, the officials he worked with at the IFA and the supporters.

"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.

"Finally, to the fans, thank you. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to manage my country and I will treasure my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever.

"The support you have provided myself and the team over the years has been incredibly humbling."

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