Michael O’Neill has described his desire to push Northern Ireland on to greater international heights as key to a four-year contract extension.
The 48-year-old confirmed yesterday a lucrative deal with the Irish Football Association worth in the region of £700,000 per year until 2024 to stay as manager.
O’Neill recently turned down the opportunity to take over as Scotland boss and, having steered Northern Ireland to EURO 2016 and one result away from next summer’s World Cup, he was quick to outline his long-term goals.
“I am extremely proud to manage my country and I am pleased to be extending my time in charge of the senior team,” he said. “In recent months I have been approached about taking other opportunities in football.
“However, no other challenge attracted me as much as taking Northern Ireland back to a major tournament.
“Our ranking is (joint) 25th in the world, we’ve been as high as 20th, we want to try and maintain that as long as possible.
“There’s no greater satisfaction in football than having what we’ve had as manager of your own country.
“I’m delighted to sign the contract, to have the opportunity to continue in the job, I’m excited about the challenge.”
He confirmed the feedback from players proved central to future plans.
“I had the option to go to clubs,” he said. “I had the opportunity to go and work as national team coach of another association but there is no greater honour than managing your own country.
“When you have what we’ve had over the last four years and having spoken to the players, they believe there is more in the tank, that was a big factor.
“I’m 100 per cent in my mind that it was the right decision, it wasn’t a financial one.”
O’Neill’s role will now extend to the position of chief football officer, offering greater input into the overall development of the game at grassroots level in Northern Ireland.