The new Northern Ireland manager could have less than one month to prepare for his first game in charge after Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson outlined the governing body’s plan to appoint Michael O’Neill’s successor by the middle of August.
Northern Ireland have not played since last November when, in what turned out to be O’Neill’s final game as boss, they lost 6-1 in Germany in a Euro 2020 qualifying group game.
The IFA expect to hear at a Uefa meeting on Wednesday that internationals will resume in September with Nations League games prior to an October showdown between Bosnia and Northern Ireland in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final.
The chief contenders to succeed O’Neill are thought to be Northern Ireland under-21 manager Ian Baraclough, Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson, currently preparing for his club’s August return to action in the new Scottish Premiership season, and Tommy Wright, who left the St Johnstone hotseat n May.
When O’Neill departed the international scene a couple of months ago to focus on his job at Stoke City, the IFA were considering having a replacement by the end of July but, when asked what the latest situation was relating to the search for a new boss, Nelson stated: “We haven’t got one yet! There is a small sub-committee from the Board who are working on that and we’ll definitely have somebody in place in time for the next games (in September).
“I think David Martin (IFA President) was quoted recently saying we’ll have someone in place by mid-August and I wouldn’t disagree with that.”
O’Neill had been due to manage Northern Ireland in the Euro 2020 play-offs, originally set to go ahead in March.
He had been hoping to win in Bosnia and then earn a home victory over the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia which would have taken the country to a second successive European Championships, following on from the glory of Euro 2016.
The coronavirus pandemic changed all that with the Euro 2020 finals put back a year and O’Neill opting to leave the IFA in April to focus solely on his job at Stoke City. Having initially been appointed by the Championship outfit last November, an agreement was reached whereby O’Neill would stay on for the play-offs.
Nelson and all at the IFA were stunned last week when it was revealed that former Northern Ireland manager O’Neill had tested positive for coronavirus shortly before a practice match against Manchester United last Tuesday.
O’Neill has been in self isolation but could be in the dug-out for Stoke’s return to Championship action against Reading on Saturday.
Nelson said: “It was quite a shock when we picked up that news. The good news is that Michael appears to have been in Zoom conversations with his coaches and squad. Clearly he has to self-isolate and we all feel for Michael. He was by far the most significant personality in Northern Ireland football since Billy Bingham, so everybody feels for him. We wish Michael and Stoke City all the best.”
• Erling Haaland opting to play for England was not a realistic option after he was “tied up” by Norway, according to Gareth Southgate, despite the Borussia Dortmund striker’s dual nationality.
Haaland was born in Leeds shortly after his father Alf-Inge had left Elland Road to join Manchester City in the summer of 2000.
The 19-year-old has followed in father’s footsteps at international level and made his debut for Norway last September, having won caps from Under-15s up.
Under Fifa’s eligibility rules, dual nationality players can switch allegiances until capped at senior level in a competitive match but Southgate believes that Haaland was always unlikely to represent the country in which he was born.
“We’re always trying to monitor those cases, but I think in that instance he was tied up pretty early by Norway and I think also, with players like him, they’re quite clear where they want to play as well,” said Southgate.
“He feels that allegiance to the country that he’s playing for now and you’re always very respectful of that.”