Making history wasn’t on the list of ‘to dos’ when Jim Magilton joined his long-time friend Michael O’Neill at Shamrock Rovers on what was meant to be a short-term basis.
“If you’ve a friend who is stuck you do what you can to help them out,” Magilton said when he joined O’Neill’s Rovers in a consultancy role back in July.
Now, three months later, the pair are battling it out at home and abroad, while also being linked with the vacant Northern Ireland manager’s job, following Nigel Worthington’s exit earlier this week.
Domestically Rovers are going for back-to-back league titles On the continent they are enjoying being the first Irish club to play in the group stages of European competition.
“I’ve enjoyed my time at Shamrock Rovers and every effort is being put in to trying to retain the league title,” said Magilton.
“The main thing that has been focused on in that time has been qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League, which has been excellent.
“It's given me an extra insight into European coaching and the different approaches in setting teams up.
“It's also given me encouragement and the confidence that I can do the job and it's good that I'll have that on my CV when the next job comes up.”
His CV isn’t that bad anyway. In his managerial career Magilton left Ipswich Town in a much healthier state than when he took over, missing out on a play-off place by a single point in 2008 — heights which they have failed to reach since he left a year later.
During his brief six-month stint at Queens Park Rangers, fans hailed their team’s style of play as the most entertaining football they’d seen since Terry Venables was manager in the 1980s.
He also laid the foundations on which his successor Neil Warnock built their promotion to the Premier League last season.
As far as the ‘next job’ is concerned, that may well be the international post.
It seems that 52-times capped Magilton — who also captained his country on many occasions — and O’Neill are two of the three main contenders now that Martin O’Neill has declared himself a non-runner. Iain Dowie is the other name in the frame.
Worthington came under pressure from unhappy fans, with his tactics and perceived negative approach to games being criticised. ‘TAXI 4 NEGATIVE NIGEL’ yelled one banner at Windsor Park last Friday night and it appeared in Italy on Tuesday as well.
Not so, says Magilton.
“I don't think Nigel was negative,” he said. “In any game you have to look at the oppositions strengths, your own strengths and try to exploit their weaknesses.
“You have to be in a game to win a game and Nigel picked
his teams and set them up with that in mind.”
Worthington cast the net far and wide in an attempt to find players eligible to represent Northern Ireland. Persuading Alex Bruce to switch his allegiance from the Republic of Ireland was one of his final acts — although he has yet to be capped.
Expect Magilton to work hard on that front too if he gets the job.
It would also be no surprise if Shane Ferguson wakes one morning to find Magilton camped out on his doorstep, refusing to leave until the Newcastle United man confirms that he’s throwing his lot in with Northern Ireland.
When the men at the top of the IFA sit down to deliberate over who the new international manager will be it’s the immediate future of the Northern Ireland team that they’ll be thinking about.
While that man could well be Magilton, he is also thinking about future generations of international footballers.
Far from sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring since his exit from Queens Park Rangers in December 2009 Magilton has been readying himself for a new challenge.
He has set up a charitable foundation with the ultimate aim of sending players on the path that he took, via Liverpool as a teenager and onto Oxford United, before making the Northern Ireland senior team.
“I’ve moved back to Belfast and I did that for numerous reasons, but one was to set up the Magilton Foundation, which I am busy working on at present.
“I am a great believer in grassroots football and I've worked in that area during the last couple of years.
“There is so much potential in Northern Ireland, there are a lot of promising youngsters out there. I also took some young lads from Northern Ireland to Ipswich Town, such as Josh Carson, who has played in the first-team and won caps for Northern Ireland.
“I want to give something back to a place that has been good to me. I want to give young players the experience and knowledge to equip them to go and make a career for themselves in full-time football and the knock-on effect of that will hopefully be that they'll represent Northern Ireland.
“I want to work with them, nurture and foster them and allow them to grow into professional footballers.
“I've been out of management for two years and that time has been as important as the years spent in the game.
“I've recharged my batteries, recognised what strengths and weaknesses I have as a coach and manager and tried to work on both those aspects.”
Name: Jim Magilton
Born: Belfast, May 6 1969
Playing career: 1988-1990 Liverpool (0 appearances)
1990-1994 Oxford United (150 league appearances, 34 goals)
1994-1997 Southampton (130 appearances, 13 goals)
1997-1999 Sheffield Wednesday (27 appearances, one goal)
1999 Ipswich Town on loan (11 appearances, 1 goal)
1999–2006 Ipswich Town (262 appearances, 15 goals)
Total: 580 appearances, 64 goals
Managerial career: 2006-2009: Ipswich Town.
June 2009-December 2009: Queens Park Rangers.
July 2011-present: Shamrock Rovers (football consultant).
International career: 1991-2002 N Ireland (52 caps, 5 goals)