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Ian Baraclough's journey from being sacked by Scunthorpe to becoming Northern Ireland manager

 

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Chosen one: Former under-21 boss Ian Baraclough was confirmed as Michael O'Neill's successor

Chosen one: Former under-21 boss Ian Baraclough was confirmed as Michael O'Neill's successor

Sligo captain Danny Ventree and Ian Baraclough

Sligo captain Danny Ventree and Ian Baraclough

Chosen one: Former under-21 boss Ian Baraclough was confirmed as Michael O'Neill's successor

Ian Baraclough hero worshipped Malcolm McDonald as a kid, played over 600 games in the lower leagues in England, won a title and cups with Sligo Rovers and now has the biggest job in Northern Ireland football.

It has been quite a journey for the 49-year-old who used the disappointment of what he viewed as a premature dismissal by Scunthorpe United from his first role as a boss almost a decade ago to drive him on in his managerial career.

There is little doubt being chosen to replace Michael O'Neill is his football highlight, but the biggest challenge of his life? It's not even close.

When Baraclough was a boy growing up in Leicester, as the youngest of five sports-loving brothers, he suffered heartbreak when his mum passed away. It was the toughest time imaginable for the family but Ian's father pulled them through and continues to be a "role model" and provide "continued support" to this day.

Having got to know Baraclough during his time as Northern Ireland Under-21 supremo since 2017, it is evident his dad did an exceptional job in difficult circumstances.

Baraclough is a genuine, friendly guy who will endeavour to help others whenever he can like over a year ago when he agreed to play in a charity football match at Windsor Park I was organising. Not only did he fly over from England for the game, he encouraged others in the football fraternity to take part.

The ex-QPR star impressed in defence but was on the losing side at Windsor that night. The Green and White Army will hope he proves to be a winner with their team. What he won't lack is desire and hard work in a bid to be a success with target No.1 to take Northern Ireland to the Euro 2020 finals.

Football has dominated his life from those days as a child when he idolised outspoken forward McDonald. He even followed Arsenal because of his admiration for 'SuperMac'.

Baraclough would later become a midfielder and defender but he started out as a winger and striker and impressed enough at youth level to earn a contract with his hometown club Leicester where David Pleat gave him his full Foxes debut in 1990.

Loan spells with Wigan and Grimsby followed before he joined the latter full-time, feeling he couldn't match the striking talent at Leicester. In 1992 came a move to Lincoln and two years later he joined Mansfield.

Establishing himself as a reliable operator at the back, his next transfer was to Notts County in 1995 where he played under Sam Allardyce and sat in the dressing room beside Chris Wilder, these days earning rave reviews in charge of Sheffield United.

In 1998 he signed for QPR and in a three-year spell at Loftus Road would work under Gerry Francis and Ian Holloway and play with larger than life characters such as ex-Northern Ireland skipper Iain Dowie, Vinnie Jones and Neil Ruddock.

Baraclough would tell you that was a learning experience and a half prior to returning to Notts County before a 2004 switch to Scunthorpe, where he enjoyed his finest moments in winning promotions from League Two to the Championship.

With his playing career coming to an end, he became a coach at Scunthorpe under Nigel Adkins, who would later be recruited by Southampton. Baraclough stepped up for his first shot at management in 2010 with the Irons. It would only last six months, leaving him hurt and with something to prove.

Out of the blue in 2012 came an approach from League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers. In the Talkin Fitba podcast, Baraclough admitted that he didn't even know where Sligo was!

Everyone in the town knew him by the time he left two years later. He guided Sligo to their first league title in 35 years and then won the FAI Cup and Setanta Cup for good measure.

He became boss of Motherwell, but after keeping the Steelmen in the top flight thanks to a play-off victory over Rangers, was shown the door less than a year into his Fir Park stint.

Disappointed by that, he was thrilled to land the role of Northern Ireland Under-21 manager three years ago and in his first qualifying campaign almost took the kids to the European Championship finals, stunning Spain in their own backyard along the way in the finest result ever for the country at that level.

O'Neill liked him. So too the young players and the senior stars when he was given the chance to coach them. The IFA are fans too given that he beat Stephen Robinson, Tommy Wright, Jim Magilton and Kenny Shiels to his current job.

Some have called the appointment underwhelming. Others feel it is inspired. Time will tell. For certain, Baraclough will give it his all.

Belfast Telegraph