An Australian rugby man in charge of Manchester City?
Australia’s rugby union boss John O’Neill has come incredibly close to landing one of the biggest jobs in world sport – the chief executive position of English Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Headhunted in New Zealand last year during the Rugby World Cup, O’Neill was told at the start of February he had been overlooked for the position, worth an estimated $3 million a year, with former Barcelona general manager Ferran Soriano the favoured candidate.
It wouldn’t have been a totally foreign assignment for O’Neill, former head of Australia’s national soccer body (chief executive of Football Federation Australia from 2004 to 2007) and the 60-year-old Australian was actually believed to be the frontrunner for the Man City job until earlier this year. He was interviewed via Skype repeatedly by club directors before meeting chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak for a key interview shortly before Christmas. However O’Neill’s chances dipped when Soriano emerged as a candidate and it’s believed the former Barcelona man’s ties with Spain’s King Juan Carlos helped put him out in front of his Aussie rival.
Manchester City are owned and backed by Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi royal family and despite his certain disappointment, O’Neill will be flattered that he was voted as the second choice for the role. Thanks to some aggressive recruiting and huge money signings since Mansour’s takeover in 2008 (he has spent an estimated $2 billion on the northern English club), Manchester City are on track to claim their first English premiership title since 1968.
The ‘blue half’ of Manchester have been on a global search for a new chief executive since Gary Cook was forced to resign in disgrace last September, after an offensive email to the cancer-stricken mother of Nedum Onuoha, one of the club’s players. Soriano’s appointment is expected to be announced shortly.
O’Neill, who has two years remaining on his Australian Rugby Union contract, is expected to see out his current tenure.