One-time Newcastle striker Michael O’Neill has proved an absolute star with Northern Ireland.
The last time they qualified for a major tournament was thirty years ago, the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico, but now O’Neill has led them to the Euros in France this summer and with something to spare.
The Irish Football Association have now moved to reward and secure their manager and are making him the highest paid national boss in their entire history.
Michael O’Neill has been given a new four year contract and will be paid £500,000 a year, more than 11 times what Billy Bingham was paid when he led Northern Ireland to those 1986 finals.
However, the Irish FA have also inserted a release clause which would mean that any club who might come in for O’Neill after this summer’s tournament, would have to pay £750,000 if they wanted to sign him on.
A number of clubs have already been credited with interest, including Celtic, with Ronny Deila reported to be under severe danger of the sack in the coming months.
Michael O’Neill arrived at St James Park only months after those 1986 World Cup finals, a low key signing from Coleraine, Michael O’Neill was only 18 when he made his Newcastle debut, but that 1987/88 season gets most mentions because of the Paul Gascoigne/Mirandinha link up.
However, it was Michael O’Neill who was the biggest shining light as he hit 12 goals despite only making 19 starts in the First Division that year, making him top scorer ahead of Mirandinha’s 11 goal league total.
Very popular with the fans as a striker/attacking midfielder, injury played its part and then of course the following season saw the club implode and relegation follow, to a back drop of civil war in the boardroom.
Gazza had left, the signings hadn’t worked out and Michael O’Neill was allowed to leave, heading off to Dundee United before a long list of moves including Wigan, Coventry and Glentoran.
Good luck to the former Newcastle star this summer and when he eventually moves into club management, aged only 46 it will be interesting to see how far he can go.