Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Steven Beacom: 84 reasons why new Northern Ireland boss has huge job

David Healy and the Northern Ireland squad have had their fair share of disappointments recently

Northern Ireland fans have not had too much to shout about lately.

Apart from calling for the head of Nigel Worthington, that is.

They got their wish on that front.

And now they are waiting to see who the new manager will be.

In the meantime the Green and White Army can digest the latest Fifa rankings which sees Northern Ireland at a depressing number 84.

That’s a drop of 14 places from the last list and follows European Championship qualifying defeats at home to Estonia and away to Italy earlier this month.

Before that Worthington’s team lost to Serbia at Windsor Park and were also embarrassingly hammered 4-1 in Estonia.

The four defeats in a row have sent Northern Ireland spiralling towards the 100 mark.

Fifa’s rankings have long since been mocked because, on occasion, nations have lost and climbed the list, but they remain important because football’s governing body use them to determine which pots various teams go into when World Cup and European Championship qualifying draws are being made.

That’s why you need to be as high as possible and certainly a lot higher than 84th.

It’s not the lowest we have been — that was back at the start of 2004 when Northern Ireland were ranked a sorry 124 following that infamous scoreless streak that seemed to go on forever (1298 minutes to be exact).

The only way was up from there and under Lawrie Sanchez and Worthington, Northern Ireland rose to the dizzy heights of number 27.

Now at 84, we are below the footballing might of Panama, war-torn Libya, Cape Verde Islands and Jordan to name just a few.

While we are falling faster than X-Factor ratings, Wales, after a fine run under Gary Speed, are flying having soared to 45.

That’s up a stunning 45 places on the last rankings table — even Carl Lewis couldn’t jump that far.

While disappointed to see Northern Ireland take such a drastic fall, Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said he was not shocked to see us down at 84.

“Given recent results we were expecting to go down,” admitted Nelson.

“The thing about the Fifa rankings is that you can move up or down very quickly. For instance look at Wales and how they have climbed lately on the back of some good results.

“What we are focusing on now is being properly organised for the World Cup qualifiers next year.”

To do that of course Northern Ireland will need a new man at the helm.

Many names have been linked with the vacant position — the most high profile being Kevin Keegan and Robbie Fowler — but the smart money suggests it will come down to our former international stars Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie with Michael O’Neill the outsider of the three.

The IFA board will meet next Thursday to discuss the procedure to be followed in finding Worthington’s replacement.

“We will take our time and endeavour to get the best person for the job,” added Nelson.

“Our next match is not until February 29 against Norway in a friendly and we want to ensure the process will be right in order to make the correct appointment.

“For whoever gets the job, it will be a great challenge.”

You can say that again, Patrick.

The friendly with Norway at Windsor Park will be followed by a few more before the World Cup qualifiers begin.

Out of interest the teams in our World Cup group are ranked as: Portugal (8), Russia (13), Israel (38), Azerbaijan (117) and Luxembourg (118).

Top of the Fifa tree, not surprisingly are World and European Champions Spain with Holland and Germany in second and third respectively and England sitting seventh.

The Republic of Ireland are 25th and are gearing up for a two legged Euro 2012 play-off next month with Estonia, who are rated as the 59th best team on the planet.

It wasn’t that long ago that Northern Ireland were ahead of the Republic in the rankings

Times change. The fans will hope results will too when Magilton, Dowie or whoever is appointed by the IFA to take over in January.

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