Michael O'Neill won't come cheap, Austin MacPhee warns SFA

Michael O'Neill does not believe he is too big for the Scotland job - but he will not come cheap, according to his right-hand man Austin MacPhee.

The Northern Ireland boss remains Hampden chiefs’ first choice to replace Gordon Strachan.

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But there has been little movement since Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan approached his counterparts in Belfast to seek permission to open talks with the 48-year-old last month.

Michael O'Neill looks on from the technical area during Northern Ireland's match with Switzerland in the World Cup play-offs. Picture: Getty Images

The former Brechin and Shamrock Rovers manager has two years left on his current £500,000-a-year contract and confirmed last week discussions had begun with the Irish Football Association over a new four-year extension.

It is thought the SFA would be willing to double his current salary in order to lure him across the Irish Sea and MacPhee has hinted Hampden chiefs may have to dig deep to secure his signature.

However, the Hearts assistant manager - who doubles up as Northern Ireland’s number two - shot down suggestions O’Neill might view the SFA post as being beneath him given his incredible feats since moving into international management six years ago.

Austin MacPhee: O'Neill's right hand man. Picture: SNS Group

Speaking at Hearts’ weekly press conference, MacPhee said: “I don’t think anybody would ever be above the Scotland job. (Sir) Alex Ferguson would never say he was above the Scotland job.

“But naturally he is now in a financial bracket which links you in some jobs and not others.

“I mean, Brechin are not going to come calling now and that’s because of the financial bracket he is in following the success he has had.

“There are pros and cons in lots of different jobs.

Michael O'Neill looks on from the technical area during Northern Ireland's match with Switzerland in the World Cup play-offs. Picture: Getty Images

“If Alex Ferguson says he is not above the Scotland job, and I haven’t asked Michael specifically, then I certainly wouldn’t say Michael was.”

However, MacPhee admits that speculation over O’Neill - who qualified Northern Ireland for their first major tournament in 30 years when he led them to Euro 2016 - and his future is unlikely to cease even if he does decide to sign on again with the IFA.

“Michael is under contract with the IFA and so am I, so it’s not something I want to talk about too much right now,” he said.

Austin MacPhee: O'Neill's right hand man. Picture: SNS Group

“I just think he’s a fantastic manager. Obviously there will be speculation about him all the time.

“Right now he’s the national team manager who has had the biggest increase in world rankings, globally, so that puts you on every board’s radar because he has taken Northern Ireland from 133rd to 20th - an increase of 113 places.

“No other manager has done that.

“Some boards in some part of the world will just pick up FourFourTwo magazine and see that he is rated 39th in the best managers in the world. They might call the first 38 and when they say no they might phone him, who knows.

“He is going to be linked with lots of different jobs.”