Michael O’Neill steps down as NI manager

Michael O'Neill has been at the helm of the NI senior men's team for over eight years. Credit: INPHO

Michael O’Neill has stepped down as Northern Ireland manager, due to proposed rescheduling of matches by UEFA in light of Covid-19.

O’Neill, who has spent eight-and-a-half years in the helm, was named as Stoke boss in November.

He intended to remain in charge of Northern Ireland to see out the Euro 2020 – now pushed back to 2021 - qualification process.

However, it seems likely UEFA will reschedule the play-off matches after the first Nations League matches in September.

“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.

“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.”

O'Neill was appointed in December 2011 and presided over their run to Euro 2016 in France - the first time in 30 years Northern Ireland 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.”

He added: “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.”