The Scottish FA have informed the Northern Irish FA they are ready to pay the £500,000 compensation required to secure Michael O’Neill as Gordon Strachan’s successor.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan made an official move yesterday to Irish FA counterpart Patrick Nelson to seek permission to talk to the 48-year-old.
The move was to head off interest from rivals, with Championship strugglers Sunderland considering moving for O’Neill, who has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the USA job following their failure to qualify for the World Cup.
The Irish FA have yet to grant permission for either party to open talks and are desperate for O’Neill, who is contracted until 2020, to remain at Windsor Park.
It is understood Irish football chiefs are willing to offer O’Neill a pay hike on his £500,000-a-year deal.
Speaking before the first leg of the World Cup qualifying play-offs with Switzerland, Irish FA chief executive Nelson made it clear how highly he rates O’Neill.
Nelson said: “He is the most erudite manager I have ever worked with during my time in football.
“He really does think everything through.
“He is a great strategist and a brilliant communicator.
“Michael can adjust his message to the audience and has a certain kind of authority to get across exactly what he needs to say.
“When we interviewed Michael in the first place we agreed between us it was never going to be a two-year deal to fix where we were at the time.
“We knew Michael would make the difference and that has been borne out.”
Now Scotland need someone to do a similar rebuilding job after 20 years without reaching a major tournament and it has been reported O’Neill is keen to discuss the potential of replacing Strachan as Scotland boss to lead the Euro 2020 qualifying bid.
The ball is now in the court of the Irish FA which has O’Neill under contract until the end of the next European Championship campaign.
The Hampden move has come soon after Northern Ireland narrowly missed out on their first World Cup finals appearance since 1986 following a controversial two-legged defeat by Switzerland.
A four-man sub group at the SFA comprising Regan, Rod Petrie, Alan McRae and Ian Maxwell were delegated with the task of finding the next international manager.
O’Neill was quickly identified as the ideal candidate but that was clouded by Northern Ireland’s participation in the World Cup play-offs.
When Northern Ireland failed to qualify for the finals in Russia this week, the SFA reacted quickly to make their move.
Former Hibernian and Dundee United midfielder O’Neill, who was on loan at Aberdeen in 1998, lives in Edinburgh and began his managerial career with Brechin, before taking Shamrock Rovers to the Europa League group stages.
Having moved to Shamrock Rovers, he led them to successive League of Ireland Premier Division titles in 2010 and 2011.
He led Rovers to a win over Partizan Belgrade to reach the Europa League group stages.
O’Neill, who is approaching his sixth anniversary as Northern Ireland manager, refused to discuss his future after his side’s goalless draw against Switzerland in Basel on Sunday, which sealed a 1-0 aggregate loss following Switzerland’s dubious penalty goal in Belfast.
He said: “No, I haven’t even considered that. .
“As I said to the players themselves, there is no need to make any rash decisions on anything they want to do.”
Edinburgh-based O’Neill’s backroom team are also rooted in Scotland, as Kircaldy born assistant Austin MacPhee is one of Craig Levein’s coaching staff at Hearts.
Another of his back-room staff, former Dons assistant Jimmy Nicholl, is currently assisting Paul Hartley at Falkirk.
Northern Ireland players have been unanimous in their desire to see O’Neill remain to lead the bid to reach Euro 2020.
Skipper Steve Davis said: “I speak for everyone by saying we’d love him to stay and how important he is for us. He has a bit of time and decisions to make.
“Other nations and clubs will probably take an interest in him because of the success we have had, but from a selfish point of view we really want to keep him. It is crucial that we keep Michael.
“Obviously emotions are still so high and strong, but it is important we keep as many of the group together as possible because it is a great team to be a part of.”
Malky Mackay took charge of Scotland in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Holland at Pittodrie last week.
However, just hours before kick-off in the Granite City, SFA chief executive Regan ruled him out of the running to succeed Strachan on a long-term basis.
Scotland’s next match is likely to be in March with talks taking place over a friendly in Morocco.
Former Scotland boss Craig Brown believes O’Neill is the ideal candidate for the role. Brown was the last manager to lead Scotland to a major finals, the World Cup in 1998.
Now a non executive director at Aberdeen, the former Dons boss said: “I think O’Neill is eminently suitable for the job. He’s got a very good international CV, particularly good with European football, and it’s exactly what Scotland need.
“He’s picking players from the lower echelons of both England and Scotland with minimal resources.
“The resources should be better, so I would think he would do equally well or better with Scotland.”
O’Neill guided Northern Ireland to Euro 2016.
He then led them to second place behind holders Germany in a World Cup qualifying group that included the Czech Republic and Norway.