Steven Beacom: Worthington's salary hardly value for money
Published 07/09/2011 | 02:35
As he emerged from his dug-out last night Nigel Worthington looked shell-shocked. Ashen-faced. Totally and utterly dejected.
He walked a few yards to congratulate his Estonia counterpart. He then shook hands with David Healy and gave his captain Aaron Hughes the warmest of hugs.
The Ballymena man gazed over at the furious, gesticulating Northern Ireland fans in the stand and applauded them. It could not have been easy, with this chant ringing in his ears, as he walked away to the dressing room.
“Nigel, Nigel, time to go.”
It may have been cruel when the manager — a thoroughly decent bloke — was at his lowest point in charge of Northern Ireland, but let's face it, the fans got it right.
The performance from Nigel's side last night in Tallinn was pitiful.
This was a time when their manager needed his players to perform most and they let him down. Badly.
It was Worthington's heaviest competitive defeat since his appointment in 2007.
And it was the worst performance of his tenure. Yes, even worse than the depressing 1-1 draw with the Faroe Islands. At least Northern Ireland got something out of that game. They got nothing from the 4-1 defeat in Estonia. Even the Northern Ireland goal was scored by a player on the opposing side!
Under Worthington, defence has been Northern Ireland's strongest area. Last night it fell apart.
I know people say Christmas comes earlier every year, but not in September! We were handing out gifts like it was December 25 with Lee Camp the most generous of all. The goalkeeper had a nightmare.
That's why there should be some sympathy for Worthington today. With the resources available to him due to injuries and suspensions, he picked the strongest and most attack minded side possible to take on Estonia with our Euro 2012 hopes riding on what was a do or die battle.
The players, though, simply did not deliver. At times Hughes must have felt like that little Dutch lad with his finger in the dyke, trying to stem the tide. No wonder Worthington gave him that big hug.
After the match some supporters stood outside the team coach to voice their anger towards Worthington. Some of the players got it in the neck too.
Faced with that abuse Nigel was as dignified and as professional as always.
Earlier when Northern Ireland were trailing in the first-half those same fans had been shouting “Nigel, Nigel on the dole”, normally a number directed in jest at the manager of the other team.
He may deserve to go, but he didn't deserve that.
To be honest some Northern Ireland fans have never taken to Worthington as manager.
And this despite the proud Braidman being part of the last squad to make the finals of a major championship — the 1986 World Cup finals.
Worthington made 66 appearances for his country, doing a superb job at left-back. We could do with a player like him now.
He deserved respect, but didn't get the honeymoon period others have enjoyed in the role by those hypnotised by the achievements of predecessor Lawrie Sanchez.
Worthington didn't help himself with some early team selections that led to defeats, putting paid to hopes of making the Euro 2008 finals, but as he grew into the job some bright moments followed, such as top performances in Sweden and Poland and a brilliant win in this campaign in Slovenia.
There were also memorable results at Windsor — victory over the Poles and Slovenia, as well as a highly commendable draw with Italy.
Ultimately though there were not enough big results to keep the fans happy.
After initially replacing Sanchez on a part-time basis, Worthington has since earned two full-time contracts, with the latter fetching him £450,000 per year — a staggering amount for a Northern Ireland manager compared with our national team bosses in the past.
Friendly results have been awful — a humiliating 5-0 defeat to fierce rivals the Republic of Ireland in May did him no favours. But it would have been forgotten had a play-off spot been secured in this Euro 2012 campaign.
Currently Northern Ireland are fifth in Group C, and that's where they will likely finish.
Not anywhere near to the standard required.
Worthington is expected to see out the remaining two qualifiers next month, but then the Irish FA should say thank you and goodbye.
When there is so much fan frustration and anger, that is bordering on hatred, a parting of the ways using the old mutual consent line is the best case scenario for all concerned.
Nigel has done some fine work for the IFA down through the ranks which will hopefully bear fruit in later years.
But on occasions with the senior side he hasn't shown enough adventure, never got the best out of talisman David Healy which irked the Kop, and hasn't taken us back to the promised land of a major finals.
On last night's evidence, the team is as far away as ever. We can only hope a new manager will change that.