Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Steven Beacom: IFA spoilt for choice in search for new Northern Ireland boss

Derby marked manager Steve McClaren's first year in charge by seeing off Bournemouth 2-0 at Pride Park
Derby marked manager Steve McClaren's first year in charge by seeing off Bournemouth 2-0 at Pride Park
Lawrie Sanchez
Former boss Sanchez's results were impressive and he masterminded some of the most famous wins in Northern Ireland's history by seeing off Spain and England.
But he walked away from the side when they were on the cusp of qualification for Euro 2008 and has not been forgiven.
His recent criticisms of Worthington - and suggestions that he would like to return - have been poorly received, not least by the players, and the IFA would face a near mutiny if they considered a return.
Martin O'Neill
The highest-profile Northern Irish manager on the circuit, in pure footballing terms he would be seen as an ideal man to improve fortunes on the field. He is not thought to covet the job, though, and would probably cost too much for the IFA to consider.
Michael O'Neill
The Shamrock Rovers manager has emerged as a frontrunner at the perfect time after his success in leading a League Of Ireland side to the group stages of the Europa League for the first time.
A creditable showing against Tottenham Hotspur showed he has the appetite for the David-versus-Goliath fixtures he would face as Northern Ireland boss.
Seen by many as a future national team boss, he may nevertheless wish to wait for the job to come along again.
Jim Magilton
Although currently employed as O'Neill temporary assistant at Shamrock Rovers, Magilton is a viable candidate in his own right. He was considered for the job when Worthington was appointed, but opted against applying due to a lack of experience.
He has since managed Ipswich and QPR, while his 52 Northern Ireland caps and Belfast home would count in his favour.
Iain Dowie
Like Magilton, Dowie's history with the national side is a plus point and he is still well liked by the Northern Ireland fans.
He seemed set for a lasting career in management when he took the unfancied Crystal Palace into the Premier League but spells at Charlton, Coventry, QPR and, most recently, Hull have failed to improve his reputation.

Now the search begins. Nigel Worthington has jumped before being pushed and the Irish FA can officially go looking for a new manager.

Unofficially many minds at Windsor Avenue were considering a successor to Worthington some time ago.

It’s no secret that I’ve believed for a while that Nigel’s time was up. There were some highlights in his four year reign such as beating Denmark and Poland at home and winning in Slovenia, but we had to put up with a lot more low points.

Messing up the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign by dropping the reliable Stephen Craigan for defeats in Latvia and Iceland, not getting the best out of record marksman David Healy, negative tactics, an embarrassing draw in the Faroe Islands, a shocking defeat to the Republic of Ireland — even if it was a glorified friendly — and THAT abject display in Tallinn last month followed by another one against Estonia last week all added up to the reasons why fans were calling for the manager’s head.

He lost the supporters and while the players may have backed him, as you would expect them to, Northern Ireland need everyone singing from the same hymnsheet to have a chance.

Ultimately it’s all about results and Northern Ireland’s have not been good enough. Not nearly good enough.

Agreed, our wee country doesn’t have huge numbers to choose from and in the current Euro 2012 campaign, Worthington’s selections have been limited due to players picking up stupid suspension and niggly injuries or retiring or defecting to the Republic.

For all that though the manager still didn’t get the best out of what he had.

We have won just TWO of the last 23 games and right now are in fifth place in our European Championship group.

We all have a laugh about FIFA’s world rankings, but they count for the seedings in qualifying campaigns and at the moment our placing is 70. We are sliding faster than the reputation of the England rugby team.

To his credit, Nigel stayed professional throughout some serious abuse from Northern Ireland fans, not to mention the unnecessary criticism from predecessor Lawrie Sanchez and Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels, but after recent results while keeping his dignity he was never going to keep his job.

His decision to call it a day after tonight’s game in Italy is the right one for him, for the IFA, for the players who need a fresh face in charge, for the fans and for the country as a whole.

Now the ball is in the IFA’s court.

They have to find a successor to lift spirits and morale amongst the fans, get the players to perform to their optimum levels, because there are gifted individuals there who should be producing better, and most important of all begin to put some good results on the board.

So, who will be that man?

Years ago, the contenders would have been few and far between.

Not now, especially when the salary is £450,000 if the IFA pay the new boss the money that Worthington was on. With that pay cheque, it’s extremely appetising.

It would be a surprise if the IFA bigwigs move for someone with no Northern Ireland connections. Some of them who will be making the decision still wake up in a cold sweat when having nightmares about the Lawrie McMenemy era.

Let’s keep it local. There’s plenty of Norn Iron men out there. The first phone call that IFA President Jim Shaw or Chief Executive Patrick Nelson should make is to Martin O’Neill (pictured).

Sure, it’s a long shot and people close to Northern Ireland’s 1982 World Cup skipper will tell you he wants to get back to the Premier League, but what’s wrong with checking if he is interested?

England missed out by appointing Steve McClaren instead of Martin. That went well, didn’t it? Contact should be made with the ex-Celtic boss if only to rule out one of the canniest managers in modern times.

If he shocks us all, and says yes we’ve got Martin O’Neill as boss. Magic. If it’s thanks, but no thanks, no harm done, we’ll move on with a trip to Dublin next on the agenda for the IFA to talk to Michael O’Neill and Jim Magilton.

I’d take either of them as our new boss or both in a partnership — they have different characters but are both bright, innovative, thoughtful men who I genuinely feel would get the players going again.

They are working in tandem at Shamrock Rovers at present and doing an outstanding job, O’Neill as boss and Magilton in a consultancy role.

Forget the fact O’Neill hasn’t managed at the highest level across the water, like Magilton and others in the frame. He would earn respect once he started talking tactics and game plans with his players.

The IFA should hurry though, because I can’t see them staying at Shamrock Rovers much longer with clubs in Scotland keen to bring the double act on board.

Iain Dowie would be another popular choice amongst supporters. Certainly his teams would play with more passion than has recently been on show while his old pals Steve Lomas and Michael Hughes would fancy a crack at the post too. Colin Clarke, currently managing Puerto Rico would also love a shot at it.

Former bosses Sammy McIlroy and Lawrie Sanchez have stated their desire to do it again, but their time has passed, just like Nigel Worthington’s will after the Italy game ends tonight.

He’s given it a go and ultimately it didn’t work out. Time for Michael and/or Jim to take us forward if Martin says no.

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