Irish FA vow to make a worthy choice in hunt for Northern Ireland manager
Irish FA chief-executive Patrick Nelson has moved to assure the Green and White Army that the association will get it right when appointing the new manager of Northern Ireland.
And he refuted recent claims that Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers was offered the job on a part-time basis, even though the Carnlough man yesterday stated he had turned down an approach from IFA bigwigs.
Fans have become impatient with the lack of white smoke from Windsor Avenue, given that Nigel Worthington left his post two months ago, but the process will take a major step forward next week when the candidates are formally interviewed by the powers that be.
Former Northern Ireland players Jim Magilton, Iain Dowie, Michael O'Neill and Gerry Armstrong are all in line to meet with top IFA officials.
Armstrong is considered the dark horse of the four with Magilton and Dowie slightly ahead of O'Neill in what is an intriguing race.
Ex-Southampton, Wolves and Cardiff boss Dave Jones has also sparked interest at the IFA, but he is an outsider in every sense with the association preferring someone who knows “Northern Ireland from beginning to end.”
There have also been whispers about a potential return for Lawrie Sanchez to the managerial hotseat, though IFA sources suggest if he were appointed it would be an even bigger shock than when he got the job first time around in 2004.
Once Worthington departed, Martin O'Neill was first choice but he was never a runner declaring he wanted another shot at club level. He didn't have to wait long before Sunderland came calling.
Then came news that Rodgers, who has done such a fine job guiding Swansea into the Premier League, was offered the Northern Ireland role on a part-time basis where he could manage his national and club sides in tandem.
It's been reported that Rodgers turned the opportunity down, though IFA chief-executive Nelson states: “That is speculation and I'm not quite sure where it came from. I won't talk about individuals but what I can tell you is that nobody has been offered the job.”
In stark contrast to that, however, Rodgers claimed that contact had been made by the IFA.
“A couple of weeks ago Northern Ireland approached the chairman and asked for permission to speak to me with regards to doing the job part-time,” said Rodgers.
“My stance was the same as it was a number of weeks ago. The job is a big job, something that is very important going forward for the development of football in the country and for me it's a full-time post.
“I didn't have to think about it for a long time, my concentration and focus is always with Swansea. The chairman and I have a great relationship. He was very honest and asked if I wanted to take it forward.
“I would love to do it at some point in my career but at the moment with the respect I have for Swansea my concentration can only be on Swansea.”
Though it wouldn't go down well with supporters, many in the game believe that the IFA would happily accept a part-time boss, as it would considerably reduce wage costs, which hit record heights here when Worthington received a whopping £450,000 per year in his last contract.
With that figure widely known no wonder the IFA have dealt with scores and scores of enquiries from out of work managers.
On the salary and the possibility of the manager being employed on a part-time basis, Nelson said: “That's a difficult one to answer because strictly Nigel wasn't working absolutely full-time. He was employed as the manager of our international team and there wasn't a need for him to be sitting in the IFA offices from nine to five every day. He was also on a particular pay structure. Ultimately we are open to do what is right for the international team.
“Our aim is to get the best person to lead Northern Ireland and I'm extremely hopeful that we will succeed in that aim.
“Ideally we would like to have that person in place in good time for the friendly at home to Norway in February, but if we can't get the right person before then we won't make an inappropriate appointment just to have someone in charge.”
Asked if the new boss, would have local connections, Englishman Nelson added: “That's an interesting one for me. Effectively we want someone with a very good understanding of the country who knows Northern Ireland from beginning to end.”
Magilton, Dowie or Shamrock Rovers boss O'Neill would be welcomed by supporters, though 1982 World Cup legend Armstrong feels his credentials should not be underestimated, saying: “I believe I have as good a chance as anybody. I certainly have enough experience having been the assistant manager to Bryan Hamilton and Lawrie Sanchez for four years each, so I know what the job requires. I also played at international level for 10 years before that and in the last four months in my role trying to ensure that young Northern Ireland players don't defect to the Republic I have learned a great deal. I feel I'm ready for the job.”
At next week's interviews the candidates will be asked to outline their plans for taking the Northern Ireland team forward and also how progress can be maintained in the future.
Salary, length of contract and the actual job description are sure to crop up too. An interesting week for the contenders and the IFA lies ahead.