Michael O’Neill ‘delighted’ to make return as Northern Ireland manager

Michael O’Neill has been reappointed as Northern Ireland’s manager a little over two and a half years after leaving the post for Stoke.

O’Neill has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract which will run until Euro 2028, which Northern Ireland hope to partly host under a joint UK and Ireland bid. His return will have Northern Ireland targeting a return to major tournaments again themselves as he ended a 30-year wait in his previous spell by leading them to Euro 2016.

“I am delighted to be the Northern Ireland senior men’s manager,” said O’Neill. “I am excited to see what can be achieved with this group of players and can’t wait to be in front of the Green and White Army at the National Stadium once again.”

The 53-year-old revitalised Northern Ireland between 2012 and 2020, inheriting a team that had won two of their last 24 matches but going on to win 36% of his 72 games in charge – the best winning percentage of any Northern Ireland manager since Billy Bingham’s first spell ended in 1971.

The run to the last 16 of the Euros six years ago was the highlight, but Northern Ireland also reached the qualifying play-offs for the 2018 World Cup before being denied by a controversial penalty against Switzerland and pushed Germany and the Netherlands in a brutal Euro 2020 qualifying group.

That prompted Stoke to come calling in November 2019. O’Neill initially combined duties as he hoped to finish the job of reaching the Euros via the play-offs, but once the pandemic led to the postponement of those games O’Neill made way for Ian Baraclough to step up from the Under-21s in April 2020.

O’Neill averted the threat of relegation to League One at Stoke but could not get them into the promotion fight as the club struggled to recruit, and he was sacked in August. With Northern Ireland also struggling under Baraclough, who lost 14 of his 28 games in charge and narrowly averted back-to-back relegations in the Nations League, the stars aligned for O’Neill’s return when Baraclough was dismissed in October.

“I believe Michael is the right man for the job,” said the Irish Football Association president, Conrad Kirkwood. “He comes to the role this time with the benefit of even more experience at both international and domestic level, which will have only added to his skill set and experience.”

O’Neill must persuade veteran players such as captain Steven Davis, 37, and Jonny Evans, 34, to stay on for one more campaign, but a favourable draw in Euro 2024 qualifying will give the opportunity for him to make an immediate impact. His side will go up against Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino in Group H.