Stoke City’s managerial search took another dramatic turn on Saturday morning as they were turned down by their first choice for the role.
Former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores became the number one contender to replace the recently sacked Mark Hughes this week when club delegates travelled to Barcelona to convince the Espanyol boss to return to the Premier League.
Reports suggested that they were successful, and Sanchez Flores looked set to use Saturday’s press conference to announce his departure.
However, in an unexpected turn of events, the 52-year-old announced that he would be staying in La Liga, rejecting Stoke’s offer of a five-year deal.
Quique stays at Espanyol. Explaining it in the press conference
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 13, 2018
What this means for Stoke, of course, is that they are likely to turn back to Martin O’Neill. The Ireland manager also met with Stoke officials this week and appeared to be the front runner for the role, in a deal that would also see assistant Roy Keane move with him, before Sanchez Flores jumped ahead of him in the reckoning.
O’Neill and Keane surprisingly attended the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland awards dinner in Dublin on Friday night, and while this was taken as a sign that the 65-year-old would be remaining in his post in charge of the national side, he refused to answer questions on his future.
In any event, both Stoke’s plans and O’Neill’s contract situation with the FAI have been shrouded in confusion once again as Irish football’s governing body await Stoke’s next move.