Slovenia v Northern Ireland: Nigel Worthington up for Euro 2012 challenge
Nigel Worthington says he feels like “a baby with a new toy” on the eve of another assault at a major championships.
Northern Ireland haven’t hit the big time since the World Cup in Mexico 1986 when Worthington was on the playing panel.
Now the 48-year-old is calling the shots as team boss in the Euro 2012 qualifiers and his excitement levels are reaching fever pitch.
“If I wasn’t excited, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “You’ve got to have the enthusiasm, the drive. I’m the leader of the team, I’ve got to set the mantle for them.
“I’ve had the pleasure of playing for and coaching/managing the country, that gives you great pride.
“When I turn up I’m like a baby with a new toy, sometimes too enthusiastic for the players, because they’re doing it every day whereas I come together three or four days every four or five weeks, so I want to get as much coaching in as possible.”
Worthington likes to keep his cards close to his chest on the selection front, but he may abandon the 4-5-1 formation and throw on two strikers.
Those two hitmen could be David Healy — despite his lack of game time at Sunderland — and Warren Feeney with Kyle Lafferty reduced to a watching brief.
The Rangers striker has let his frustration boil over in recent matches for club and country and Worthington expressed hope that a disciplinary pep talk would change players’ attitudes.
“It was straightforward, black and white,” he said. “Behave yourself on the pitch and off the pitch and I’m very happy. If you don’t, I’ll take action, simple as that.
“I didn’t give the players a chance to discuss it. I saw for my own eyes. Our discipline in the last campaign was outstanding, on and off the pitch.
“It was five months previously to the last friendly for that group of players, so they maybe dropped their guard a little bit, between their clubs, pre-seasons, holidays, relaxed a little bit and thought, ‘Well, I’ll have a moan rather than getting on with the game.’ That’s not how we work. Distractions don’t get in the way of what we want to do, simple as that.”
Northern Ireland’s 10-game winless run has sparked fears of another fruitless qualifying campaign, but Worthington says his men can rise to the occasion.
“I always want the players to perform well in friendlies because the paying public are paying good money to watch our team,” he added.
“But friendlies and qualifiers are two different things. Players mentally tend to raise the bar another 10, 15 per cent when it comes to the qualifiers. Hopefully that’ll be the case, it needs to be the case.
“My main bread-winner is qualifying games for the World Cup or Euros.
“Like everyone else you want a good start. It doesn't always happen. So as long as we go and give it our best shot, perform how we can do, then we can look to get a good start.
“I have the utmost respect for Slovenia but we also have good players and are a hard working team.”