The Irish FA have made Michael O’Neill their number one target for the vacant Northern Ireland manager position.
It is an ambitious yet popular move from the association after O’Neill masterminded Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification before leaving for Stoke City almost two years ago.
His re-appointment would be welcomed by senior players and Leeds United’s versatile midfielder Stuart Dallas recently revealed he would love to play under O’Neill again.
The IFA has received wide-ranging interest after being given a kind Euro qualifying draw, avoiding some of the bigger nations despite being a pot-five seed.
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler is among those keen to open talks about replacing Ian Baraclough.
If the IFA & O’Neill fail to agree terms, former captain Neil Lennon would be a strong candidate along with O’Neill’s ex-assistant Stephen Robinson, who was interviewed for the job in the past.
Record goalscorer David Healy has been tipped to become a future NI manager but the Linfield boss acknowledged recently it may be further down the line.
His former teammate Warren Feeney, who won promotion with Dimitar Berbatov’s hometown club Pirin Blagoevgrad last year, is another homegrown manager who has been linked.
Former Ipswich & QPR boss Jim Magilton, NI women manager Kenny Shiels and former St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright were all interviewed for the job following O’Neill’s exit.
However, O’Neill’s previous success has pushed him to the top of the pile and a return to international football may prove to be more appealing to the 53-year-old at this stage of his career.
Northern Ireland face Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino in qualifiers and they will play out across the calendar year, offering a new manager the opportunity of instant success.
They would also be able to benefit from Baraclough’s efforts in handing younger prospects, such as Liverpool’s Conor Bradley, valuable game time.
O’Neill, who has a masters degree in sports directorship, meticulously analyses each job that comes his way before deciding if it’s right for him.
He rejected interest from Scotland, West Brom & Sunderland during his first spell as NI boss before taking the Stoke job.
Northern Ireland open qualifying in March with an away game against San Marino before hosting Finland in Belfast.