Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Worthington must go, says old pal Alan McDonald

Nigel Worthington pictured yesterday in Italy in what could be one of his last training sessions with Northern Ireland

Alan McDonald has become the first high profile former Northern Ireland international to claim that Nigel Worthington’s time is up.

The ex-skipper says his old international comrade has taken the country as far as he can.

After another disappointing defeat to Estonia at Windsor Park on Friday night, Northern Ireland’s dream of reaching a major finals is as far away as ever.

The 2-1 loss, which sparked fresh criticism of Worthington from frustrated fans, killed off any lingering hopes of making it to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer.

McDonald, who won 52 caps and was part of the 1986 World Cup squad in Mexico — the last time Northern Ireland made it to a major finals — now feels Worthington should step down.

“Nigel has been in the job over four years and I think he’s had a fair crack at it,” said the former Glentoran boss. “I would be extremely surprised if the Irish FA offered him a new contract.

“I think the time is right for a fresh look at things and a new direction.

“A new manager with different ideas could take us forward. Nigel has been a great servant to our country, winning 66 caps, and while I think his spell in charge has not been a disaster, it hasn’t been a terrific success and it’s time for a fresh approach.”

McDonald feels that the Irish FA should now sound out two other of his former international comrades to steer the team through the World Cup 2014 qualifiers.

“Some people are talking about Michael O’Neill but I think Michael would be silly to take it,” added McDonald.

“I’d be very surprised if he left Shamrock Rovers. I think Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton are worth considering.

“Their doors should be the first ones knocked on. They would be a great choice but I certainly would not consider Lawrie Sanchez — he walked out on Northern Ireland and fans have long memories.

“He jumped ship and let us down.”

The recent retirements of Aaron Hughes, Stephen Craigan and George McCartney, coupled with the imminent exit of Maik Taylor and the uncertain international futures of Warren Feeney (30) and Grant McCann (31) have left fans wondering who is going to spring off the production line.

Although leading goalscorer David Healy says he wants to play in the World Cup 2014 qualifiers, he’s still starved of first team action at Rangers.

McDonald (pictured) admits he’s apprehensive about the future with players ageing and few youngsters showing real promise.

“David (Healy) was left out of the Carling Nations Cup squad and, although he has been brought back in, he hasn’t been featuring regularly for club or country,” added McDonald.

“The passion and pride may still be there but the one thing you can’t beat is father time. I’ve always held the view that you don’t retire from playing for your country — you are just no longer picked.

“But players like George McCartney, Stephen Craigan and Aaron Hughes have taken their own personal decisions and perhaps in Aaron’s case the physical demands are greater now on Premier League players. The seasons are longer and the game is faster.

“Now there has to be a question mark hanging over David as he is going to struggle to reproduce the form he once showed for Northern Ireland as he goes into his mid-30s.

“Without Kyle Lafferty in attack, the team will lack a cutting edge.”

Northern Ireland’s selection woes are deepened by the eligibility ruling that allows anyone up to the age of 28 with an Irish passport to play for the Republic of Ireland as long as they haven’t played a competive game for Northern Ireland.

When McDonald was leading his country into battle, the Republic were keen to fill their team with players who weren’t Irish so he’s not surprised by the FAI’s determination to grab the best young talent in Northern Ireland.

“The Republic liked to have their English based players like Tony Cascarino, Andy Townsend and of course Ray Houghton who is Scottish so they have always been keen to cast their net across many countries,” added McDonald.

“When I was working with the Northern Ireland Under-21s the problem of keeping players in the set-up always existed but I find the Fifa ruling unbelievable as it goes against their own dictates.

“I don’t know how a team of lawyers could come up with that decision.”

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