Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Steven Beacom: Look no further than fab four for new Northern Ireland manager

Former Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill would be a popular, if unlikely, choice as Northern Ireland manager

It was on October 10 in a tiny room in Pescara that Nigel Worthington announced to the assembled Press that he was leaving his role as Northern Ireland manager.

His departure, carried out in Worthington’s typical professional and dignified manner, was applauded by the fans who had long since decided he had to go.

Privately, it was also welcomed by the Irish Football Association.

The powers-that-be at Windsor Avenue weren’t going to renew Nigel’s contract so the Ballymena man saved them a job by jumping before he was pushed.

Now, though, the IFA Board have some serious work to do finding Worthington’s replacement.

The nine men on the board have their first meeting at Windsor Avenue tonight since that October afternoon in Italy when Worthington made his intentions clear.

Plenty of contenders have emerged with some putting themselves forward for the post and others ruling themselves out.

Former Northern Ireland stars Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie have both declared they want it.

The pair of them were fantastic servants as players and have managed in the Premier League, so they have enough experience and knowledge needed to take over what is a hugely challenging position.

They tick a lot of boxes and are available, with Magilton a consultant at Shamrock Rovers and Dowie involved with media work at Sky.

Jim and Iain, big pals in their playing days, have plenty of admirers in the Irish FA and not unexpectedly are front-runners in this race.

Martin O’Neill would probably be a lap ahead if he desired the position but he has stated he wants to return to club management. Still, he’s worth an official call from the IFA.

Namesake Michael O’Neill, fresh from guiding Shamrock Rovers to a second successive League of Ireland title, has stated he is happy to stay in Dublin.

If the IFA really feel he is the man though, they could tempt him to Belfast.

Most of the talking among fans has been about that fab four, especially with the IFA preferring to appoint a local hero.

Other names to crop up have been former Northern Ireland managers Sammy McIlroy and Lawrie Sanchez and ex-players Jimmy Quinn, James Quinn, Jimmy Nicholl and Gerry Armstrong.

They are outsiders and so are Kevin Keegan and Robbie Fowler in every sense, though the interest either would generate around the football world would be stunning.

Ultimately the nine men on the IFA Board will decide who will follow in the footsteps of Peter Doherty, Bertie Peacock, Billy Bingham (twice), Terry Neill, Dave Clements, Danny Blanchflower, Bryan Hamilton, Lawrie McMenemy, Sammy McIlroy, Lawrie Sanchez and Worthington.

For the record the nine are chairman of the board Dr Leslie Caul, IFA president Jim Shaw, new IFA deputy president Terry Pateman, Hugh Wade, Trevor Annon, Conrad Kirkwood, Aidan Murphy, Robert Haworth and Alan Willis.

They will be assisted by chief executive Patrick Nelson, who will be making a few important phone calls in the next few weeks to the preferred candidates.

President Shaw said: “All of us who are involved in the board meeting will get a chance to have input into the process of selecting our new manager.

“We know how vital this process will be.

“It is challenging for all of us and we know this is a very, very important appointment for the future of Northern Ireland football.

“The man who comes in must have what it takes to resurrect our international team.”

It’s imperative that the IFA board get their selection process and appointment right.

Indeed, you could say that it is one of the most important decisions they will make in the association’s history.

Right now the Northern Ireland international team is at a crossroads.

We can either continue to slide to oblivion or start the slow ascent to improved results and restore pride in the side and bring much-needed joy to the Green and White Army.

The Euro 2012 qualifiers proved to be a nightmare.

Only two wins out of 10 were achieved and a fifth place finish in Group C was unacceptable.

Goals may have been hard to come by, but mistakes weren’t as they littered the tail end of the campaign leading to four defeats in a row.

Sadly key performers like Stephen Craigan and Aaron Hughes announced their international retirements.

Players born, raised and who came through the IFA ranks here opted to defect and play for the Republic.

And worst of all there were serious question-marks raised about the commitment of some of our players.

With Northern Ireland slipping to 84th in Fifa’s world rankings, you would think the only way is up, but only if the IFA choose a dynamic figure, who can inspire the public and the players.

He’ll also need to take a long, hard look at the coaching structures within the IFA in a bid to bring more young talent through.

In many ways it is a short-term job to make the national team competitive again and a long-term job to ensure we stay that way.

It should also be a full-time job — not part-time to decrease costs as some of bean counters at the IFA would prefer.

Northern Ireland’s next game isn’t until February 29 when Norway visit Windsor Park. The manager will be appointed the month before.

Key decisions will be made tonight and in November and December.

There may be no games, but we are entering a hugely important period in Northern Ireland’s footballing history, make no mistake about that.

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