A dignified exit, but Worthington had to fall on sword
He was dignified to the end even in a time of bitter disappointment for Nigel Worthington, the proud Ballymena man refused to play the blame game.
He’s been let down by some of his players, the fans have been on his back for quite a while, the Irish FA didn’t help his cause arranging meaningless friendlies and lady luck disowned him a long time ago.
Yet 49-year-old Worthington, as he announced that tonight’s match against Italy will be his last as Northern Ireland boss, was full of grace in accepting his fate.
He knew, just like every Northern Ireland supporter, his time was up — paying the price for just nine wins in 40 games.
The players have made mistakes, he’s admitted to certain errors throughout his four-and-a-half year reign and as a result, IFA chiefs will now be searching for a new manager to guide Northern Ireland through the World Cup qualifiers which start next September.
Finishing fifth in Group C of the Euro 2012 qualifiers is just not good enough — even for a country the size of Northern Ireland.
The players, while showing a united front in support of their manager off the pitch, have not produced on it — ultimately forcing Worthington to walk rather than put the IFA into an awkward situation where they relieve him of his duties come December 31.
Now Worthington will move aside and leave it up to the new chief to try and get the very best from a small pool of players.
“The situation is that after the Italy game I will step down as manager of the national team,” revealed Worthington, who was appointed Northern Ireland manager in May 2007.
“Up until three games to go (in Group C) we were in a very good position but, through no-one's fault, sometimes the game of football throws you a raw hand.
“I feel the time as come after four-and-a-half years, which have been fantastic for me as an individual.
“Sometimes when you try to get blood out of a stone there's only so much you can get.
“I think I've gone as far as I can with the group we've got.”
Only six weeks ago, Northern Ireland were still in with a great chance of finishing second in Group C and clinching a Play-off spot for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer.
A point against Serbia and four points from the two games against Estonia would likely have secured that much coveted position just behind table toppers Italy.
Yet three consecutive defeats all but confirmed Worthington’s departure with the 4-1 hammering in Estonia, down to four player errors.
It was a night of uncharacteristic mistakes from the likes of Lee Camp (pictured) and Gareth McAuley.
Worthington came in for a great deal of criticism from fans who encouraged the IFA to dispense with his services.
Worthington though, despite all the abuse and personal verbal attacks, only has words of praise for the Northern Ireland supporters. “My decision was not through supporter pressure because I can deal with that. It's a football decision that I think is right,” concedes Worthington.
“I'm very proud and privileged to have managed my country.
“Four-and-a-half years in football is a long time.
“The question was asked of me at the outset ‘would I turn my back on my country?’. I said no then and I was determined to see it through and that is what I've done.
“Some of the fans may have been against me at the end but all I would say to the fans is to be behind the team.
“They are phenomenal supporters and the way they travel around Europe in huge numbers is second to none. From a players' point of view and from the manager's point of view that is much valued.
“Of course frustration and disappointment creeps in.
“I fully understand that the fans have been wonderful with me for many years as a player and up until recently wonderful again as manager — I fully respect their support for Northern Ireland football.
“What they don’t see sometimes is the huge amount of work behind the scenes.
“But sometimes people don't see beyond a result — or don't want to.
“That's fine you live with that.
“I'm content one with myself, two with the people in the association and with the amount of good old fashioned hard work that has gone in to producing youngsters.
“Hopefully Northern Ireland as a whole has produced a lot of young players that, given a bit of time, will add to the seniors in the next few years.”
In his final game tonight against Italy in Pescara, Worthington will pick a team from a squad that has been ravaged by injuries and suspension.
The proud Ballymena man has given his all to Northern Ireland and served his country well.
His best, unfortunately, just wasn’t good enough