Former Northern Ireland defender John O'Neill admits he wouldn't be surprised if the Irish FA had already made a tentative approach to Michael O'Neill.
The hunt is now on for a new manager after Ian Baraclough was sacked on Friday.
Former boss O'Neill is the man fans want to see back at the helm after he led Northern Ireland to the 2016 Euro finals during a hugely successful first spell between 2011-20.
Supporters also believe Northern Ireland stand a fighting chance of reaching the 2024 Euros after they were handed a favourable qualifying draw alongside Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino.
O'Neill - who played at back-to-back World Cups in the 1980s - questioned the timing of Baraclough's sacking, but believes it could be a calculated move by the IFA.
"I think the timing of the sacking was more of a surprise. I think Ian was on borrowed time," O'Neill told BBC Sportsound.
"It is difficult to see why they gave him an extension to the contract only in December and then turn around and sack him now.
"But I think things happened to push the Irish FA in that direction. Results were poor, a section of supporters had started to turn on him...
"Then we got the Euro qualifying draw and it is a favourable draw for us, and then Michael O'Neill is available. Considering Michael's record and how fans think of him, the IFA maybe thought this is a chance to bring Michael back."
He added: "I would be very surprised if Michael doesn't come back. I think they have something in the background prepared, and if so then they have done their homework right.
"You don't just sack someone and hope someone will come along. I don't have any inside knowledge, but I would imagine a tentative approach has been made to Michael and if he is interested then he will be the man to get the job."
The Irish FA have five months to find a new manager before the Euro qualifiers kick-off next March, but O'Neill believes the association needs to move quickly.
"I am not sure if there will be international friendlies before March. When the manager gets the job he needs to get the players together," he said.
"That's a positive with Michael O'Neill. He knows most of the players and they know him, so that wouldn't be much of a problem.
"I am optimistic. If Michael O'Neill gets it I would be happy.
"But there's someone like Stephen Robinson who has done a good job in club management. There's talk of people like Michael Duff and Grant McCann, but I am not sure.
"I also think there are people more experienced than David Healy which would put them ahead of David at the minute.
"But Stephen Robinson would be up there when it comes to experience, so would someone like Tommy Wright."
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