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Northern Ireland fans still play waiting game as Irish FA home in on top target



Tommy Wright, Stephen Robinson, Jim Magilton and Ian Baraclough are the top candidates to succeed Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager.

Tommy Wright, Stephen Robinson, Jim Magilton and Ian Baraclough are the top candidates to succeed Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager.

Tommy Wright, Stephen Robinson, Jim Magilton and Ian Baraclough are the top candidates to succeed Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager.

The Irish FA's search for a new Northern Ireland manager is going into extra-time as fans get ready for the post-Michael O'Neill era.

The Irish FA board met last night to discuss their next move after interviewing five men for the top job but there was no official update following the meeting.

Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough, Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson, ex-St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright, the IFA's Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton and Northern Ireland women's supremo Kenny Shiels were interviewed on Wednesday.

The new man in charge will have to start preparations for two Nations League fixtures in September before the crucial Euro play-off semi-final in Bosnia the following month.

The IFA want to accelerate the recruitment process ahead of a packed autumn schedule but they face a difficult decision.

When O'Neill was appointed Stoke City boss in November, the search for his successor began and fans are hopeful of an imminent announcement.

The four-man interview panel comprising IFA president David Martin, chief executive Patrick Nelson, outgoing chairman Gerry Mallon and Neil Jardine from the Fermanagh and Western League updated the board on the recruitment process.

The Irish FA indicated they wished to maintain an element of continuity in making their appointment and both Baraclough and Robinson fit the bill having previously worked with O'Neill.

Baraclough, who transformed the fortunes of the Under-21 side, has previously stated: “I want to manage at the highest level possible and would be honoured if I was asked to do the job. When I first took the Under-21s I never imagined I would be linked to Michael’s job.

“I would hope he was going to stick around for quite a bit longer actually because I have enjoyed working with him, and he’s brought me into the senior set-up on certain occasions when we’ve not had games and I have enjoyed that work with the senior players.”

When asked if he would consider taking the job, Robinson, who has been Motherwell manager since 2017, said: “I think probably in every manager’s career it would be the pinnacle.

“Whether people see fit that it’s the right time for me now, or whether I see fit that it’s the right step for me to take at this moment in time, remains to be seen because it’s a hypothetical question.

“It’s a good job for somebody, we’re a country that’s on the up, we’ve got a tremendous fan base. If you’ve ever been to Windsor Park on a game night it’s fantastic.”

The new manager’s first match as boss will be a Nations League tie away to Romania on September 4 but much bigger than that will be the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 8, with a possible final on November 12 against the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia at Windsor Park.

Meanwhile, Fifa outlined their sporting and economic path out of the Covid-19 crisis, although no date has yet been fixed for the expanded Club World Cup. 

The competition was due to take place next summer in China but Fifa agreed to delay it when Euro 2020 and this summer’s Copa America were forced back to 2021 by the pandemic. 

A raft of decisions on the men’s international match calendar were taken by Fifa Council, along with confirmation of a $1.5bn (£1.2bn) pandemic relief fund, but the precise date for the Club World Cup remains up in the air. 

“The latest on the Club World Cup is that it will be the most fantastic competition ever to be organised, but we don’t know yet when,” Fifa president Gianni Infantino said. 

He said the competition would be “viable” and that initial commercial discussions on sponsorships pre-pandemic had been encouraging. 

“It’s obvious it’s very big — just imagine the biggest clubs in the world playing in one place to crown the world champion. I think this is a very, very appealing event and I’m sure it will be very successful,” he added. 

The decisions taken included the extension of the international window in Europe by a day in October and November to allow for each country to play a triple-header of fixtures instead of the usual two. 

The extension will enable the Euro 2020 play-offs — originally due to have been played in March — to be played in those windows, while also accommodating the 2020-21 Nations League. 

The September international window will go ahead in Europe and South America as planned but has been postponed in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the CONCACAF zone, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean countries.

Belfast Telegraph