O'Neill set for talks over Scotland job

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The Scottish Football Association is set to hold talks with Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill in the coming days about the vacant Scotland job.

BBC Scotland understands the Irish Football Association has honoured a gentleman’s agreement and granted O’Neill permission to speak to the SFA.

O’Neill, 48, is their preferred candidate to succeed Gordon Strachan as Scotland manager.

The IFA agreed to the SFA’s request after a board meeting on Friday.

They have already offered O’Neill an improved contract in an attempt to retain him as manager.

He has been in charge of Northern Ireland for six years and led them to Euro 2016 – their first major finals since the 1986 World Cup – but missed out on World Cup qualification in the play-offs.

O’Neill steered them to second place behind Germany in a qualifying group that included the Czech Republic and Norway, but they lost out on a place at Russia 2018 after a 1-0 aggregate loss to Switzerland.

The former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers boss, who lives in Edinburgh, is under contract until 2020 on a deal believed to be worth £500,000 a year.

Northern Ireland are currently 23rd in the Fifa rankings, six places above Scotland.

A graphic of Michael O'Neill's record in charge of Northern Ireland<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>

O’Neill won only one of his first 18 matches in charge of Northern Ireland, but has won 17 and drawn eight of his 35 matches since September 2014.

O’Neill’s Northern Ireland assistants are also based in Scotland. Austin MacPhee is assistant manager at Hearts, while Jimmy Nicholl is assistant boss at Falkirk.

Strachan left in October following Scotland’s failure to reach the World Cup play-offs.

SFA performance director Malky Mackay took charge of Scotland for a friendly defeat by Holland last week, but chief executive Stewart Regan had already ruled him out of the running to succeed Strachan on a long-term basis.

Scotland have not been to a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

Their next match is likely to be in March, with talks taking place over a friendly in Morocco. But they do not have a competitive fixture until next autumn.

Under Strachan, Scotland were unbeaten in their final six qualifying matches but finished third behind group winners England and Slovakia.

Gordon Strachan and Michael O'Neill at Hampden Park in March 2015<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>
Michael O’Neill fact-file
Born 5 July 1969
Began career with Coleraine in Irish League, before joining Newcastle United
Played as a midfielder and forward during a 20-year playing career
Among the clubs he played for were Dundee United, Hibernian, Coventry City, Wigan Athletic and St Johnstone
Made 31 appearances for Northern Ireland, scoring four goals
Was in charge of Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers before being appointed Northern Ireland boss in December 2011

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