Michael O’Neill has been re-appointed as manager of Northern Ireland on a five-and-a-half-year contract until June 2028.
O’Neill was first in charge from December 2011 until April 2020 during which he guided the club to their first UEFA Euro tournament in 2016, where they eventually exited at the Round of 16 Stage after Gareth McAuley’s 75th minute own-goal gave Wales a narrow victory.
The 53 year-old went on to guide Northern Ireland to the Qualification Play-Offs for UEFA Euro 2020 but resigned in April 2020 – despite becoming manager of Stoke City in November 2019, after UEFA postponed the tournament until summer 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Ian Baraclough consequently took charge of the national team earlier than originally planned – having been set to replace O’Neill post Euros if they had qualified, yet Northern Ireland ultimately didn’t qualify after losing a Play-Off Final to Slovakia in extra-time in November 2020.
Baraclough’s reign though proved disastrous as the team failed to qualify for 2022 FIFA World Cup and narrowly avoided qualifying for relegation play-offs in UEFA Nations League C, by virtue of overall goal difference against Cyprus.
O’Neill meanwhile was sacked in August after Stoke made a poor start to the season despite a strong player recruitment drive this summer.
Speaking about his “delighted” return to Northern Ireland for a second stint, O’Neill commented: “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.”
Northern Ireland FA Chief Executive, Patrick Nelson added that O’Neill’s immediate priority is qualifying for UEFA Euro 2024, whilst the FA focus on their bid to co-host UEFA Euro 2028 in partnership with England, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Northern Ireland FA Chairman, Stephen Martin meanwhile added that he and the FA board are looking forward to “exciting” times under O’Neill, as he iterated Nelson’s message that 2023 is the team’s immediate focus.