New Contract for Martin O'Neill. Why Now?
With any deal, or contract negotiation, each party will have an optimum time for them to sit down and engage – and the best time for one, rarely coincides with the other. Timing determines leverage, and leverage is king in deal-making. It’s a simple formula, and one we all generally start learning from infancy – don’t ask for sweets just after you’ve shit your pants. Bide your time.
Which is why, generally speaking, the new contract offer to Martin O’Neill has left most fans bemused. We, as a footballing nation, have been here before. McCarthy and Trap, both on the receiving ends of pre-tournament contracts, both golden handshakes of which had barely ended before things turned messy – Trap embarrassed, McCarthy didn’t survive the Saipan/media fall-out. However, both, to their credit, got rewarded having led us to a major tournament. McCarthy also proving his worth in the end, whatever the Peoples Republic of Roy Keane feel about it. O’Neill also deserved his initial contract extension – when he eventually got around to signing it – and proved his value in what was a ‘decent’, albeit not amazing, competition.
But this one?
O’Neill’s leverage is waning. 2017 is winless, 3 points from a potential 12 since our superb result in Vienna. Facing a weekend where maximum points still doesn’t guarantee us progression. Sections of the fans are becoming tired of not only his style, and our results, but even how he’s treating the media (you know it’s bad when the Irish media are being felt sorry for). And all of this is unquestionably going to compound if we don’t at least qualify for a play-off having been sitting top of the group for much of proceedings. So, why now?
Step in FAI, and their head ‘dealmaker’ John Delaney.
Delaney’s leverage is now. His personal leverage. Not footballing one. Delaney knows that his moments of maximum exposure and criticism while at the helm of the business end of Irish football has been in times of instability. He will have most certainly seen the tide swing on O’Neill over the last 6 months, both in the stands, and through the media. He can’t afford for this build and have his hand twisted by the public. An O’Neill departure for him means he’s back in the firing line – armed with Denis O’Brien’s chequebook and zero footballing knowledge himself – he’d appoint a panel to decide on who comes in next, knowing that options are scarce, particularly as O’Brien’s dosh is for salaries, and not for buying managers out of their current contracts. We’d need someone available. Who? Stephen Kenny, some say. Not a chance. That’s a call Delaney wouldn’t need a panel for, and after Staunton, his last ‘personal’ appointment, there’s no way he’d take a risk of that size.
This isn’t a contract for O’Neill’s performance. It’s a contract for three reasons:
- Other options aren’t obvious, and any that are, are high risk or expensive buy-outs
- Offering O’Neill a contract next week if we don’t qualify for at least a playoff makes it a much bigger call - more questions on Delaney
- Brand John Delaney protectionism
This should not be mistaken as a contract of confidence in O’Neill. It’s, in fact, a contract that could be argued is the opposite. Delaney could be seen as betting on us not getting six points this weekend. The raised eyebrows he got yesterday evening will be nothing compared to what they’d be next week if we didn’t qualify and he offered the same. And is betting against that risk worth it if we do in fact win, and qualify? The numbers say no.
Alternatively, you could argue it’s a contract to protect Martin O’Neill in case we don’t qualify - it all but ends the point of any “O’Neill Out” cries if we do miss out on yet another World Cup.
But knowing the history of the FAI CEO, I’m programmed to believe the real headline here should read otherwise. Regardless of whether the manager has done enough to warrant it or not.