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Michael O’Neill quits his outgoing role as manager of Northern Ireland prematurely

Michael O’Neill has left his job as manager of Northern Ireland after more than eight years, IFA confirms.

O’Neill will focus on his role as boss of Stoke City and leave his successor to lead Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 playoff against Bosnia, which is likely to be moved to September due to the corona virus crisis.

O’Neill has been doing both tasks since returning to club management with Stoke in November. However, the 50-year-old has stepped down to allow his replacement time to prepare for the Nations League, as well as the chance to qualify for the euros delayed until next year.

Michael O'Neill stepped down as manager of Northern Ireland ahead of schedule

Michael O’Neill stepped down as manager of Northern Ireland ahead of schedule

O’Neill has done an excellent job since being appointed in December 2011, notably guiding Northern Ireland to their first ever European championships in 2016 – their first appearance in a grand final in 30 years – and a knockout stage in France . He also secured a playoff for the 2018 World Cup and narrowly lost to Switzerland.

In the Euro 2020 qualifying, Northern Ireland were the biggest challengers in Germany and the Netherlands, but finished third in the last round. O’Neill’s overall record of 72 games has been won 26, drew 18 and lost 28.

He said: “After careful consideration and after discussions with the Irish FA, I think it’s only fair that now is the right time to step aside.

“I would have liked to have had the opportunity to lead Northern Ireland in the UEFA 2020 playoff game against Bosnia and Herzegovina and the opportunity to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation has made this impossible.

“ It was important to leave the association and the team in the strongest form possible to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but to give the new manager time to build on the success we during my eight year tenure.

“During 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 participated in some great moments.

As for my players, then and now, I would like to thank them all for an overwhelming level of dedication and professionalism that has helped deliver so many unforgettable highlights and great experiences for all of us.

“I also want to thank everyone at the Irish FA who made the work a great experience.

Finally, thanks to the fans. It has been an honor and a huge privilege to manage my country and I will cherish my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever. The support you have given me and the team over the years has been incredibly humble. ‘

O'Neill was named Stoke boss in early November, but continued to lead Northern Ireland to see Euro 2020 - however, the tournament has now been pushed back to 2021

O'Neill was named Stoke boss in early November, but continued to lead Northern Ireland to see Euro 2020 - however, the tournament has now been pushed back to 2021

O’Neill was named Stoke boss in early November, but continued to lead Northern Ireland to see Euro 2020 – however, the tournament has now been pushed back to 2021

A statement from IFA confirmed that talks with UEFA on Tuesday about match rescheduling were a key factor in deciding to separate the company from O’Neill now.

It said: “Michael O’Neill has left his role as manager of Northern Ireland for good because of UEFA’s proposed revised international game schedule in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After meeting its 55 affiliated associations via video conference, it seems likely that the European governing body will rearrange the playoff matches, with the last four places at UEFA Euro 2020 – which have been moved to the summer of 2021 – taking place after the first UEFA Nations League games in September.

O’Neill, who was appointed Northern Ireland boss in December 2011, would take over the senior men’s team for the play-off Path B semi-final game away to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Due to the now likely recast of that game, a decision has been made and agreed by both sides to definitively close O’Neill’s reign as Northern Ireland manager.”

IFA CEO Patrick Nelson paid tribute to O’Neill, who overcame a difficult start and won only one of his first 18 games, to oversee the best time in Northern Ireland football since Billy Bingham’s 1980s teams.

O'Neill memorable led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 - where they reached the last 16

O'Neill memorable led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 - where they reached the last 16

O’Neill memorable led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 – where they reached the last 16

His last game was an unfortunate 6-1 defeat to Germany in Frankfurt in November after taking the lead, but hopes of Euro 2020 automatic qualification in Northern Ireland had almost disappeared by then.

Nelson said, “It is within a unique set of circumstances that we conclude our unforgettable chapter with Michael O’Neill. His time as a manager and as a lead football player in the Irish FA will be remembered as one of the most intoxicating for our fans and the most successful for our players.

“We were all looking forward to having Michael back to lead the squad in March for the game against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for obvious reasons it just wasn’t like that.

Now that we have a clearer sense of UEFA about their next game program, now is the time to move on in a new direction to give Michael’s successor the best possible opportunity to plan for and compete in the Nations League, as well as prepare for those crucial play-off games that will hopefully take us back to the euro next summer.

“We will work with our board to ensure that the next manager is present for the games in September. I would also like to express our gratitude to Stoke City, in particular the Coates family and their CEO Tony Scholes for their openness and flexibility during this time.

“We also wish Michael all the best for the rest of this season and beyond. He will always be welcome at the National Football Stadium in Windsor Park. ‘

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