Northern Ireland fans should know the new manager of the national team before the weekend after the Irish FA conducted interviews with a number of candidates at Windsor Park on Wednesday.
Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson, ex-St Johnstone supremo Tommy Wright, Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Ian Baraclough and IFA Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton held talks with a four-man panel comprising IFA president David Martin, chief executive Patrick Nelson, outgoing chairman Gerry Mallon and Neil Jardine from the Fermanagh and Western League.
It is believed a surprise fifth candidate spoken to by the IFA was Northern Ireland women’s manager Kenny Shiels.
In a slightly embarrassing situation for the IFA, it is understood that Robinson and Wright ran into each other in the Windsor car park in between interviews!
The interviews took place on a day when Motherwell announced they had “reluctantly” given Robinson permission to speak to the IFA about the Northern Ireland post, which became vacant when Michael O’Neill left to focus on his job at Stoke City in April.
Robinson was allowed to meet with the IFA after a compensation package was agreed between the parties should the Fir Park boss be named as O’Neill’s successor.
The panel will on Thursday night inform the IFA board about the interview process and are likely to recommend their choice, which should be ratified without any issues. There is a possibility of an announcement on Thursday evening, though candidates have been told they will be informed by Friday of the IFA’s decision.
At various times since O’Neill departed, Robinson, Wright and Baraclough have all been favourite with the bookies with Magilton consistently viewed as a dark horse. Shiels would be seen as a huge outsider.
Motherwell made it clear that they don’t want Robinson to go. No wonder given that in his time at the Scottish Premiership club he has inspired them to two cup finals and last season took them to third place in the league and a spot in the Europa League.
A statement from Motherwell read: “We have given Stephen Robinson permission to speak to the Irish FA regarding the vacant role of Northern Ireland manager.
“On Tuesday, the governing body sought consent to interview Stephen for the job, which we reluctantly granted. We have expressed in the strongest possible terms that we want him to stay with us.
“The work he has done so far to take the club to two national cup finals, bring through young talent and finish third in last season’s Premiership has been exceptional.
“As we prepare to embark on a Uefa Europa League campaign, it is our hope that Stephen will stay to continue the work that has proven so successful.”
Like fellow former Northern Ireland international Robinson, Wright is hugely respected in Scotland for his brilliant work in charge of St Johnstone, while Baraclough has shone as Under-21 boss and Magilton, previously a Northern Ireland captain, has been a major success as the IFA’s Elite Performance Director.
The new manager’s first match will be a Nations League tie away to Romania on September 4 but much bigger will be the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia & Herzegovina on October 8, with a possible final on November 12 against the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia at Windsor.