O’Neill is likely to receive offers from clubs and countries following Northern Ireland’s controversial defeat by Switzerland in the World Cup play-offs.
The 48-year-old, who has also been linked with the vacancies at Sunderland and Rangers, insisted it was too early to contemplate his future in the aftermath of Sunday’s elimination in Basel.
Scotland hope to capitalise on Northern Ireland’s misery by offering O’Neill a four-year contract worth up to £1m per year with bonuses – double what he earns with the Irish Football Association – to revive their dwindling fortunes. O’Neill, who lives in Edinburgh, is well-known to officials at the Scottish FA and is their first choice for the job.
Austin MacPhee, his Kirkcaldy-born assistant with Northern Ireland who is also assistant head coach at Heart of Midlothian, is expected to be offered a director of football role with the SFA.
O’Neill is under contract at the IFA until 2020 with a compensation clause of £750,000. However, that sum is graded according to where O’Neill goes and is likely to have dropped as a consequence of Northern Ireland not qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986.
Their next competitive qualifier is not until March 2019 and, although a club role would offer the former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers manager more day-to-day involvement, he is happy – and successful – in international football.
Scotland could face competition for O’Neill’s services from Major League Soccer. Several clubs in the United States are believed to be interested in O’Neill, who has a brother in Chicago and is a fan of US sports.
Northern Ireland’s players were united in their desire for O’Neill to continue following the gut-wrenching play-off defeat but unsure about his intentions.
Jonny Evans said: “As a manager he’s unbelievable, we all love him and every single player plays for him. It would be a shame to lose him but we know on the other side, management is such a difficult job and if something came up, where it would be difficult to turn down, no one would ever begrudge him that.
“I can definitely understand why there is interest in him. He’s so inspirational, he’s very tactical. Even the other night, we had just got off the plane and were on the bus to the hotel. He had watched the first half of the game and he came down the bus and said: ‘We’re calling a meeting tonight and we’re going to watch the game again because you didn’t play that bad, there are so many basic things you can improve on.’ It gave everyone a lift straight away. He’s got such composure and his team talks, he says the right things to get the lads going. You can see everyone plays for him and we all really, really respect him.”
Michael McGovern, Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper, concurred: “Michael’s stock is so high at the minute. We would love him to stay but I’m sure there will be interest elsewhere. Michael is his own man and makes his own decisions. If he’s here for the next campaign, we will be absolutely delighted as players.”
The sense that the Switzerland game marked the end of an era was not restricted to the manager. Gareth McAuley declined to comment on his future but Evans said he was “95% certain” his 37-year-old defensive partner would not retire from international football. Chris Brunt, however, admitted he was considering whether to continue and the 38-year-old Aaron Hughes, who made his 109th appearance against Switzerland, may also retire.
“All good things have to come to an end at some stage,” said Brunt. “It’s been very good the last four or five years under Michael. It’s been as enjoyable to be part of this group as any I’ve been involved in and I’ve been playing for the last 14 years. It would have been nice to top it off with the World Cup, but it wasn’t to be. I don’t think it’s time to say anything now. I’m as gutted as I’ve ever been in my football career.”
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