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I wasn't hired to be another O'Neill, I'm going to be my own man, insists NI boss Baraclough

 

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New Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough

New Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough

New Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough

It would have been easy for Ian Baraclough to ride the coattails of Michael O'Neill.

O'Neill, one of Northern Ireland's greatest ever managers, left an indelible impression and a blueprint for success.

At his maiden media conference, new boss Baraclough could have waxed lyrical about his predecessor and how he hopes to emulate him, especially as it appears to be the done thing in football management these days. Even the great Jose Mourinho fawned over Mauricio Pochettino when he replaced the Argentinian at Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet, within a few days of taking over as Northern Ireland manager, Englishman Baraclough, who signed an 18-month contract with the Irish FA, has respectfully made it known there is a new sheriff in town.

The Northern Ireland football team is now under his complete control.

Assertive, passionate, intelligent and positively genuine, 49-year-old Baraclough insists he "is not a clone".

"It is important I focus on the job ahead," he states.

"I'm not here to try and be Michael O'Neill. It would be wrong of me to even attempt anything like that.

"I've obviously been chosen to lead the country because of what the board see in me. Hopefully they see someone who is meticulous in the way he works, also likes to have good relationships with players and gets the message across in a simple but clear way."

There was a belief that by appointing Baraclough ahead of the strong-willed Tommy Wright, Stephen Robinson and Jim Magilton, the Irish FA had not only taken the 'cheap option' but a manager they could easily dictate to.

By the end of his tenure, O'Neill basically influenced Irish FA CEO Patrick Nelson's decision making. A joke circulating Irish FA corridors suggested that if sandwiches were ordered during a conference at the National Stadium, it was probably best to ring O'Neill and ask him what filling would be in them, because he seemed to control everything else at Windsor Park.

This was in contrast to O'Neill's early days, when the Northern Ireland manager was at constant loggerheads with Nelson over every minor detail concerning the international set-up.

Baraclough will be a completely different proposition to the Under-21 manager who was kept under the watchful eye of O'Neill during his three years with the underage side.

The former Sligo Rovers and Motherwell manager has made it known he will do everything within his power to allow his players the opportunity to triumph on the pitch.

"I hope the Irish FA see me as someone who has got the passion and fight to go on and energise the country and group of players to more glory," adds Baraclough.

Baraclough will not only be a familiar face to fast-rising players who have come through his Under-21 set-up, but also the experienced stars as he was invited by O'Neill on a number of senior trips during the last few years, during which he took some of the training sessions.

On the players' group chats, there have been conversations about what Baraclough will be like as a boss, rather than the friendly coach who was only too happy to have a joke during drills.

Baraclough will be approachable, respectful and will happily welcome opinion, but will ultimately be fair and tough, and if a player doesn't have the attitude he demands, then it simply will not matter how good he is - he'll be left out.

"First of all, I encourage players to come and speak to me. I want their opinions on things," admits Baraclough.

"I have no problem leaving players out and explaining why, and hopefully they see me as being someone who is approachable.

"I'm somebody who I think can get a plan across in a clear and concise way and, if someone is not clear about their role, then hopefully I'm approachable enough to come and knock on my door, speak to me and say, 'I'm not quite sure, can you explain this or that?'

"With the Under-21s, you've probably seen I've played in several different ways, whether it be four at the back, three at the back, two up front, three up front.

"I think we've developed certain ways of playing where the players understand if during a game you need to change, they have that knowledge and that confidence to go and do it with ease.

"I think it might be something that, you know, might take a little bit of time with some players, but if everyone is open and honest with each other, it shouldn't take too long.

"For me, there's more than one way to skin a cat, you've got to be able to go and play a different way.

"If things aren't working during a game, you have to be able to change things with players understanding what is needed, and that all comes down to communication.

"I think the way I treat players, I treat them hopefully with respect, and, indeed, I feel that they should treat everyone else in the group with respect as well.

"It's something that's massive for me, I insist on having people who are good people.

"I've left out players from the Under-21s if I didn't feel it was quite right, even though they may possibly have been better players than those you're bringing in.

"But if you've not got the right attitude, if you've not got the right application, then you might struggle in one of my teams."

Baraclough has laid down the law - not only with the players but his backroom staff as well.

While he's kept on the majority of O'Neill's coaches, he has shuffled the likes of Austin MacPhee around to maybe not have as much influence on the squad as he did before. Former Northern Ireland midfielder Damien Johnson, now a respected coach at Blackburn Rovers, has been brought in to play a key role on the training pitch.

Baraclough, while respecting O'Neill's achievements and the obvious benefits of continuity, will insist on doing things his way.

Over the years, we have seen so many managers struggle to be the man after the man. Those who have followed Sir Matt Busby, Sir Kenny Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson spring to mind. Baraclough is relishing the opportunity to be next man in.

"I've followed other managers who have been a success, I've built up experience over the years, you learn how to handle certain situations and taking over this role is not daunting to me," he insists.

"I know it is a challenge but I don't fear it and it is one I am looking forward too immensely."

Belfast Telegraph