The race is well and truly on now. And while Jim Magilton, Iain Dowie and Michael O’Neill are the frontrunners to become the new Northern Ireland manager, they are about to be joined in a sprint to the finish by other major footballing names.
Special K wants the job... but we want a local hero In the frame: Kevin Keegan has told the IFA he would be interested in taking over from Nigel Worthington as Northern Ireland manager, a post which may attract the big names with a salary of £450,000 Norn Iron man must be given the chance
According to Irish FA sources, there has been interest from Kevin Keegan’s representatives.
Yes, Kevin Keegan — former Liverpool hero, Toon Army icon and England star who walked away from managing his country after making the refreshingly honest statement that he wasn’t up to the job.
While they may not be as famous as Keegan, there will be further well known former managers from the UK considering the vacant post, following Nigel Worthington’s departure.
That’s because so many of them are out of a job at present.
Here’s a list of just some of those unemployed: Mark Hughes, Alan Curbishley, Paul Jewell, Billy Davies, Peter Reid, George Burley, Dave Jones, Kevin Blackwell, Joe Kinnear and David O’Leary.
To use football parlance they want “back in”.
And Northern Ireland offers them an opportunity.
Not all of the above will fancy coming over here, feeling they have bigger fish to fry, but you can bet your bottom dollar a few will be tempted to apply.
Years ago, the Northern Ireland job was about as attractive as spending a month in the company of the English rugby team.
But things have changed.
The salary for starters. It’s gone from around £100,000 a year to £450,000 and while there will be those who protest that money isn’t everything, in modern day football it tends to help.
There will be many out there enticed by the prospect of earning almost half a million in 12 months for taking charge of, say, eight games and coming in at a time when surely the only way is up.
Ultimately, though, while there may be a few names, such as Keegan, which will make everyone sit up and take notice you have to ask the question if that is what we require right now.
I would suggest the Northern Ireland football team needs a Northern Ireland man.
Magilton and Dowie have already made their interest clear.
Both are outstanding candidates, who understand (a) what it means to play for Northern Ireland (b) what it takes to play for Northern Ireland, because you are generally up against it (c) what it means to the people
of Northern Ireland and (d) the politics that goes with our team, ie youngsters born here preferring to play for the Republic.
Magilton and Dowie get it. They also have passion and desire oozing out of them to succeed.
Ditto another strong candidate Michael O’Neill — who right now is understandably focusing on leading Shamrock Rovers in Europe and the Hoops to another League of Ireland title.
Martin O’Neill would have been everyone’s first choice, but he has ruled himself out leaving the door open for the younger O’Neill, Magilton and Dowie.
The Green and White Army would certainly accept any of that trio.
I wonder though if their heads will be turned by interest from Keegan and other high profile cross channel figures.
Lawrie Sanchez may not have been seen as a typical Norn Iron man but he did have previous with us, winning a few caps, so you could say the last outsider to manage our wee country was Lawrie McMenemy.
Incidentally, while the IFA are keeping their options open and Sanchez would happily return to the job, there is now an uneasy feeling at Windsor Avenue in relation to him after his unnecessary attack on Worthington followng the defeat in Estonia last month.
Influential IFA figures, several players and many fans do not want to see him back.
A bit like McMenemy really.
The Englishman was the ‘dream’ appointment that turned into a nightmare with shocking results and player unrest dominating his time in charge.
You may remember it was McMenemy who brought former Liverpool striker Keegan back into English football signing him for Southampton from German side Hamburg.
I called Keegan yesterday, but he didn’t wish to talk about the Northern Ireland job.
There will be others in the weeks to come who will queue up to speak about their qualities and why they should be in the frame.
Ultimately it’s up to the Irish FA to decide who leads us forward.
When I asked IFA president Jim Shaw this week about whether the new boss would be local, he replied: “I hope the new manager would be from Northern Ireland, but that’s not a certainty.”
Interesting. Keegan emerging on the scene makes things even more intriguing.
There’s a part of me that would “love it” if Kevin became manager because he’s such a colourful character, whose teams always play entertaining football.
But for the good of Northern Ireland football I believe it would be best to have one of our own.
Name: Kevin Keegan
Born: Armthorpe, Yorkshire. February 14 1951.
Playing career: 1968–1971 Scunthorpe United (124 league appearances, 18 goals)
1971–1977 Liverpool (230 appearances, 68 goals)
1977–1980 Hamburger SV (90 , 32)
1980–1982 Southampton (68, 37)
1982–1984 Newcastle United (78 48)
1985: Blacktown City, Australia (2 1)
Total: 594 appearances, 204 goals
1992–1997 Newcastle United
2001–2005 Manchester City
2008 Newcastle United
1972–1982 England (63 caps 21 goals)
Football League Championship winner: 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77.
German Bundesliga winner: 1978-79.
FA Cup winner: 1974
European Cup winner: 1977
Uefa Cup winner: 1973, 1976
Footballer of the Year 1975-76.
European Footballer of the Year 1977-78, 1978-79.
PFA Player of the Year 1981-82.
Football League First Division Championship: 1992-93 (also Manager of the Year)
Football League Second Division Championship: 1998-99
First Division Championship: 2001-02.