Belfast Telegraph

I'm ready to step up to the top job, says NI U21 boss Baraclough

Baraclough will be in race to succeed O'Neill

Ian Baraclough
Ian Baraclough

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Ian Baraclough has suggested that if the opportunity to take charge of the senior team comes his way, he could not turn it down.

Highly rated Motherwell supremo Stephen Robinson is the favourite to replace Michael O'Neill, but with the Irish FA seeking a smooth transition, Baraclough also fits the bill having excelled in his current role.

St Johnstone's Tommy Wright, Hull City's Grant McCann, Linfield's David Healy and Coleraine's Oran Kearney are also names in the frame.

Baraclough insists, however, that he hopes Northern Ireland won't need a new manager until after the Euro 2020 finals.

Despite being appointed as Stoke City's boss last week, O'Neill will be in the Northern Ireland dug-out for Saturday's qualifier at home to the Netherlands and in Germany three days later. He's also stated he will be at the helm in March should the team be involved in play-offs, while IFA officials and the players want him to continue if the nation reaches the Euro 2020 finals.

Baraclough, whose youngsters host Hungary in a friendly at Ferney Park tonight, points out that when O'Neill eventually departs it is important that his legacy and success is built on.

Asked about replacing O'Neill, Baraclough said: "I've have made no bones about it, I want to manage at the highest level possible.

"I've really enjoyed my two-and-a-half years with the Northern Ireland Under-21s. It's been my first time working at international level and it's a job I've not looked at moving away from."

Baraclough added: “Something I never envisaged was being mentioned along the lines of being part of the senior team but this job has given me a thirst for it.

“You want to test yourself at the very best level, and playing against teams in Euro qualifiers and the best teams in Europe and possibly around the world is something surely a coach with any ambition couldn’t turn down.”

Baraclough, who almost took the Under-21 team to this year’s Euro finals, added: “I don’t see any decision being made until at least March, and hopefully it goes beyond that because that would mean we had qualified.

“Hopefully Michael would take us to the finals. Everybody concerned hopes Michael stays as long as possible.

“The legacy he will leave is incredible. That needs to keep going and continue to be built upon.”

On his relationship with O’Neill, Baraclough said: “Michael has always been very supportive. I wouldn’t say we have been in each other’s pockets because you are generally playing in different places at the same times.

“It’s not like it used to be when the Under-21s would replicate the seniors and play a few hours before in the same city. It’s two separate jobs, and you often speak on the phone rather than face to face, but he’s always been there for my enquiries and he’s always interested in how the players are doing. He’s also not been afraid to give young players a chance which is brilliant for my job.

“Michael has never put any stipulations on how we need to play formation wise and who I need to select. He’s left that up to me, which gives you the freedom to be your own man, and it’s been a really healthy relationship.”

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