Should Nigel Worthington stay... or should he go?
The cases for and against the manager
Reasons to stay
1. It’s not all bad
Things might have unravelled a bit in recent months, but it’s worth remembering that the Euro 2012 campaign started off with a win in Slovenia — Northern Ireland’s first significant away victory for a generation. We’re also the only team to have taken anything off Italy in this group and had one or two things fallen the right way the Azzurri may have been leaving Windsor Park a beaten team. The 0-0 draw at home to Slovenia wasn’t that bad a result either given the fact that the spine of the team — Maik Taylor, Aaron Hughes, Steve Davis and Kyle Lafferty — was missing.
2. He has laid the foundations for the future
Worthington has devoted a lot of time to the overall international set-up — more so than any of his recent predecessors. His decision to replace Kenny Shiels and Mal Donaghy as managers of the under-17 and under-19 squads wasn’t universally welcomed, but he’s not here to win popularity contests. Maybe he deserves to stay on and see the job through rather than someone else benefiting from his work with the younger players.
3. The last two defeats weren’t his fault
Northern Ireland contributed to their own downfall against Serbia and Estonia. Of five goals conceded in the two games four of them came via mistakes. No matter how a manager sets up his team, when international players commit such horrendous howlers they are going to be punished and there’s pretty much nothing the manager can do.
Reasons to go
1. IFA haven’t got what they pay for
Worthington is on the biggest salary the Irish FA has even awarded to a manager — way more than double that of any of his predecessors. He hasn’t matched that by delivering the big prize of a place at a World Cup or European Championship finals. It’s nigh on impossible for a new contract on the same lucrative terms to be justified.
2. Tactics - or lack of them
Defensively the team has improved. Only four goals were conceded in the campaign before Tuesday night’s debacle. Nigel seems to be flawed, however, when it comes to finding a way to incorporate his most gifted attacking players in a team set-up. He didn’t use Paddy McCourt from the start of a competitive international until last month. Would he even have played if Chris Brunt had been fit? As for Brunt, Worthington hasn’t been able to figure out how and where to get the best out of out top Premier League performer.
3. The fans want him out
There is no doubt that Worthington has lost the support of the fans. The backing for the manager was already dwindling before the ‘Nigel, Nigel time to go’ chants began to echo around A. Le Coq Arena on Tuesday night. When a manager loses the fan he’s as good as finished and if Nigel stays the IFA might find that match tickets become hard to shift.
Potential Worthy successors
Fast becoming the golden boy among young managers having just guided Shamrock Rovers into the group stages of the Europa League. The Ballymena man steered Rovers to their first league title for 16 years last season.
The former Northern Ireland skipper is still linked with most of the big jobs that become available. Has plenty of experience, most notably with Celtic and Aston Villa. Doubtful if he would fancy Windsor Park hotseat given the limited playing resources.
Has valuable experience at the helm of Queen’s Park Rangers and Ipswich Town and would certainly be keen given his current temporary role as Michael O’Neill’s assistant. Distinguished international playing career does chances no harm.
Success as boss of Crystal Palace had him marked down as a rising managerial star but has since drifted into the media side of the game. Endeared himself to Northern Ireland fans as a battling centre forward.
Walked out on the job in 2007 to take charge of struggling Premier League side Fulham. Northern Ireland had been on course to qualify for Euro 2008 when he departed and highly doubtful that he will be handed a second chance.
Currently manager of SPL side Kilmarnock after last season succeeding Mixu Paatelainen, who departed Rugby Park to become Finland boss. Had much success with Northern Ireland at underage level and plenty of Irish League experience.