Belfast Telegraph

Nigel Worthington: Leaving is not the answer

By Stuart McKinley

Judgement day is looming for Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington. In two weeks the Euro 2012 campaign will be over - barring a sensational sequence of results that would see a play-off spot secured - and then it will be decision time on Worthington's future as international boss.

The last two European Championship qualifiers, at home to Estonia next Friday night and away to Italy the following Tuesday - when captain Aaron Hughes will retire from international football - are the last games that Worthington's current contract will cover.

And that's when the judgement will come.

The decision over whether he is offered a new contract or not may well have already been made by those in charge at Windsor Avenue.

After the shambolic 4-0 defeat in Estonia earlier this month all but ended hopes of making the Euro 2012 finals many fans decided they no longer want him in the job - some had already made up their minds on that a few months ago.

The current situation doesn't make pretty reading. Northern Ireland sit fifth in Group C, with only the Faroe Islands worse off.

Worthington, however, wants those who will decide his destiny to look beyond the scorelines and see the bigger picture.

"Sometimes people's minds are switched on and off by results. I've been in the game too long to look at it like that," he said yesterday when announcing the squad for the Estonia and Italy games.

"You survey across the board of what has been achieved, what's been done, the amount of work that has gone in, the structure that has been put in place and the people you are working with.

"My contract finishes on December 31. I've said all along that I've enjoyed the role, a lot of hard work has been done by many people and many good things have happened.

"We were sitting third in the group two games ago. The Faroes result and after the Estonia game sums football up.

"You're up there one minute and down here the next."

Yes, Worthington has spent a lot of time working with the underage international teams and the women's side - you can't imagine Fabio Capello or Giovanni Trapattoni doing likewise.

He's also cast the net far and wide in his attempts to find players who are eligible to play for Northern Ireland.

The 'does your granny come from Ulster?' scenario may not be to everyone's liking, but when so many of our young players are opting for the Republic of Ireland, having a team with only Northern Ireland born players in it isn't realistic anymore.

Ultimately there is no getting away from the fact that it's results that will be uppermost in the minds of those who make the call on whether it's Worthington or someone else who will be in charge of Northern Ireland when Norway come to Windsor Park for a friendly next February.

And in the last 12 months the results haven't given the fans much to cheer about.

The farcical Carling Nations Cup defeats, when many players and fans alike couldn't be bothered to turn up, can be forgotten.

The 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands, when Paddy McCourt led them a merry dance and scored two goals to boot, had everyone on a high, but that's been the only win since September last year.

Despite all that Worthington records progress in other ways than simply how many points have been put on the board.

"In the first-half against Serbia we did what we had to do and did it very well. We defended and kept a clean sheet," said Worthington.

"Second-half we went out and had a real go at them.

"The performance in Estonia, between the two 18-yard boxes, football wise was probably as good as we've played.

"The passing, the movement - but we struggle when it comes to the attacking 18-yard box. We struggle to score goals.

"The one thing that has been a real strength for us was on the defending side, not conceding goals, that all went in one game with three mistakes costing us goals. Qualification games for me the results have been very, very satisfying. I'd liked to have won one or two more, but when we've had the strongest group out - apart from the last two games when we'd pretty much the strongest group out apart from Kyle Lafferty - we've got good results.

"The results in the last two games were hugely disappointing with the group we had."

That's an understatement if ever there was one.

Northern Ireland had gone into the games riding high after beating the Faroes, a result which meant the team was in control of its own destiny.

Now only two wins for Northern Ireland - remember one of the remaining games is in Italy - combined with a couple of defeats for Serbia will prolong the campaign for another month.

Claiming a play-off berth is very unlikely, but if achieved it would keep Worthington in a job.

Otherwise he knows that it's others who will dictate his destiny.

"What other people decide elsewhere is entirely up to them," said Worthington.

"There have been a hell of a lot more positives over the last four-and-a-half years.

"I have been in the game long enough and I am realistic enough to know what size of country we are, what numbers we have to chose from and what quality we have at the top level. I am aware of that situation, we work hard to try to improve that.

"Realism and football don't really go together because people will sometimes see what they want to see.

"When you are in the game, you are around it for a while, you learn to see things, you learn to look for things and when you analyse it sometimes the picture isn't as bad as you think it is."

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