MICHAEL O’Neill has angrily denied he used the SFA targeting him to become the new Scotland manager to drive up the terms of a contract extension with Northern Ireland.

O’Neill is poised to sign a lucrative new deal with his country, who he has taken to the Euro 2016 finals and a Russia 2018 play-off place in the last two years, imminently after opting to turn down the Scotland job on Monday.

The former Dundee United, Hibernian, Aberdeen and St. Johnstone midfielder, whose current agreement with the IFA runs until the Euro 2020 finals, is set to put pen to paper on a four year extension which will earn him an estimated £700,000 a year.

It has been suggested the Edinburgh-based 48-year-old never had any intention of taking over from Gordon Strachan despite holding talks with senior SFA officials in the capital last week.

But speaking at the UEFA Nations League draw in Switzerland yesterday O’Neill said: “That’s totally false. It shows a lack of knowledge on the part of the people passing comment, simple as that.

“There was no idea of playing the two associations off against each other. I also had discussions with two clubs during that period as well, so it wasn’t a case of that at all.”

He added: “People continually asked me about the Scotland job. But I wasn’t offered the Scotland job. It was only when we got around the table to actually discuss the job in detail and having done that I felt the best option was to stay with Northern Ireland.

“I wouldn’t go into any job unprepared. That was the same when I spoke to the two clubs. I knew exactly what I was going into. When I looked at the options for various reasons, for personal reasons as well, I felt it was best I stayed with Northern Ireland.”

O’Neill also defended the SFA, who took over two months to put together the £500,000 compensation package the IFA were demanding for the Northern Ireland manager, for how they conducted themselves during their prolonged pursuit of him.

Stewart Regan, the governing body’s chief executive, has come in for severe criticism for the failure to secure the services of O’Neill and has faced calls to resign from Scotland supporters and former players.

“They did what they could do, as simple as that,” said O’Neill. “People talk about the timeframe and the fact the decision was based around a financial element.

“It wasn’t based around that because the IFA made an offer to me within a week of the Switzerland game. If it had been purely down to a financial element I would have signed that contract there and then.

“I think people forgot I was under contract, so there was no immediate rush for the SFA. That was their approach, it was out of my control and wasn’t a major factor in my decision.

“Had I had to make the decision before Christmas it wouldn’t have been a major factor then either. I know some people passed comment on that, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was a case of looking at whether I stay where I am or left and I just felt at this moment in time that the right decision was to stay with Northern Ireland.

“The talks I had with Stewart Regan and Mr McRae (SFA president Alan) were positive. I weighed everything up and just felt the right thing to do was to stay with Northern Ireland. That’s no slight on Scotland at all, it’s a very tempting job.”

O’Neill continued: “I just felt I had been in the Northern Ireland job for six years and I felt there were opportunities to grow the team. The IFA have also given me an enormous amount of power to grow the game and have a say in how the game is structured.

“I think at times criticism of the SFA has been unfair and I think at times people have passed comment forgetting that I’m not actually Scottish. I might live in Scotland, but I’m Northern Irish - I manage my own country. It’s very difficult if you manage your own country to manage another country.

“It was a very difficult decision to make. I live in Scotland, my children were born in Scotland, I have a strong affinity with the country. But I am Northern Irish. I said that all along and I think sometimes people forget that. There is no greater honour than managing your own country.”

O’Neill believes whoever is appointed Scotland manager in the coming months has, with outstanding young players like Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths, Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney at his disposal, a realistic chance of qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals.

“I think Scotland is a great job,” he said. “It’s a great job for someone coming in. I think there is a real opportunity there for someone to build and grow a team. Gordon left the squad in a healthy state.

“There are a number of players coming through and there is a little bit of inexperience in some of the players. There are not lot of international caps in some of the players, but they are playing at a good level and, as I say, I think there is a real opportunity for whoever gets that job and I wish them well with it.”

O’Neill joked that turning down the Scotland position may provoke a negative reaction among members of the Tartan Army as he goes about his daily business in Edinburgh. “I’ll be wearing a woolly hat and a balaclava so nobody sees me!” he said. “Seriously, though, everything is fine.