Michael O’Neill leaves Northern Ireland after eight years as manager
Coronavirus pandemic has ended O'Neill's hopes of leaving after Euro 2020 play-off vs Bosnia & Herzegovina - which is now likely to be held in October
Last Updated: 22/04/20 7:19pm
Michael O'Neill has left his role as Northern Ireland manager after eight years in order to solely focus on his position in charge of Stoke.
O'Neill was named Stoke boss in early November, but remained in charge of Northern Ireland in order to see out the Euro 2020 - now pushed back to 2021 - qualification process.
But with Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off against Bosnia & Herzegovina now likely to be in October due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, O'Neill has mutually agreed to step aside.
"I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the UEFA 2020 play-off game against Bosnia and Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible," O'Neill said.
"It would have been unfair for someone to come in and take charge of the play-off game with very little preparation which is why I agreed to take the game in March alongside my Stoke City commitments.
"Northern Ireland need clarity and 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 also allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight-year tenure."
U21 boss Ian Baraclough and Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson are strong contenders to replace O'Neill.
Baraclough was due to help O'Neill for their Euro 2020 play-off and has worked with a number of the young players promoted to the senior set-up.
Robinson is popular with senior players and was O'Neill's assistant at Euro 2016.
'Unique circumstances bring end to unforgettable chapter'
O'Neill was Europe's fourth longest-serving international manager after Joachim Low (Germany), Koldo (Andorra) and Luc Holtz (Luxembourg).
He was appointed in December 2011 and presided over their run to Euro 2016 in France - the first time in 30 years they 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.
"We were all looking forward to having Michael back to lead the team in March for the game against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but, for obvious reasons, it simply wasn't to be.
"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."
'No dream send-off'
Analysis by Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour:
There will be no dream send-off for Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager. He had hoped to lead them to Euro 2020 and the IFA had an agreement in place with Stoke for him to take charge of that play-off originally scheduled for March.
But the pandemic has essentially ended his hopes of doing that and brings to an end his reign of just over eight years. The play-offs are now likely to be in October - that caused logistical problems for Stoke, not to mention the new Nations League kicking off.
This is the day Northern Ireland fans feared, despite being realistic enough to know what was coming.
O'Neill will go down as one of the greatest managers in their history. He transformed international football in Northern Ireland - they had been in a state of despair and decline in the aftermath of the '82 and '86 World Cups and although Lawrie Sanchez came close to reaching a major final, it was largely doom and gloom.
They were ranked 127th in the world seven months into O'Neill's tenure in 2012 - what a turnaround from that to making history by qualifying for their first European Championship in 2016.
U21 boss Ian Baraclough is viewed as someone who could bring some continuity to the role and is a strong contender to replace O'Neill, as is his former assistant Stephen Robinson, the Motherwell manager.
But the key question is what impact O'Neill's departure will have in Northern Ireland reaching the Euro finals next summer.
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