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Michael O’Neill attended Sunday’s Scottish Cup meeting of Hearts and one of his former clubs, Hibernian

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has turned down the chance to replace Gordon Strachan as Scotland manager.

O’Neill, 48, had been the Scottish FA’s preferred candidate for the role.

The former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers boss said he had “given the matter a great deal of thought and consideration”.

“It’s a huge honour to be offered the position however I do not feel that this is the right opportunity for me at this moment in my career,” he said.

“I would like to place on record my gratitude to the SFA for the very professional manner in which they conducted negotiations and I would also like to wish them every success for the future.”

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “The process of identifying and recruiting a new Scotland national coach remains ongoing.

“The board of the Scottish FA appointed a sub-committee to oversee the recruitment process, compile a list of suitable candidates and ultimately make a recommendation. As part of that process, and in recognition of his work in taking Northern Ireland to UEFA Euro 2016, Michael O’Neill was identified as an obvious candidate for consideration.

“To that end, we requested permission to speak to Michael from the Irish Football Association, which was accepted. Michael and his advisers met our delegation in Edinburgh on Thursday and discussed all aspects of the role during a three-hour meeting.

“While this was a positive and cordial discussion, we respect Michael’s decision to remain loyal to Northern Ireland, with whom he has enjoyed great success.

“We wish him well in his future endeavours and thank the Irish FA for their professionalism throughout. We now continue our recruitment process from the candidate list established by the selection committee, with a view to giving the new national coach ample time to prepare the squad for the Uefa Nations League.”

Having led Northern Ireland to the last 16 at Euro 2016 and the World Cup play-offs, O’Neill has been offered an extended contract by the Irish Football Association. He is contracted until 2020 and the proposed new deal would run until 2024.

The Northern Irishman has had a long association with Scottish football after playing spells at Dundee United, Hibernian, Aberdeen and St Johnstone.

Strachan had a near five-year spell in charge of Scotland but could not lead the national team to their first major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Craig Brown was in charge of that campaign and Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein held the post before Strachan.

McLeish said in December becoming Scotland manager for the second time “would suit me very nicely”.

SFA performance director Malky Mackay took charge of Scotland’s senior team for the November friendly defeat by Netherlands and Scotland’s next game will be at home to Costa Rica on 23 March.

Further friendlies follow against Hungary in Budapest (27 March), Peru in Lima (29 May) and an unconfirmed side preparing for this year’s World Cup in Mexico City (2 June).

Scotland will then face their inaugural Nations League campaign in September, the draw for which takes place on Wednesday.

Analysis – BBC’s Chris McLaughlin

There’s no way of looking at this in any other way than it being a huge blow for the SFA operationally and for their reputation. The Northern Ireland manager was absolutely their preferred candidate from day one and despite putting their biggest ever managerial financial package on the table, they failed to get their man. The reasons for that will be analysed internally but searching questions will also follow publicly when the SFA responds. Of course attention will now turn to a plan B, but it may well now be a tricky sell given the job has already been turned down. There’s little reason to rush given the lack of upcoming meaningful games and it may well suit those at Hampden to let the dust settle of this saga first.


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