Friday, 14 October 2011

Difficult job for new Northern Ireland manager as Worthington era draws to an end.

This blog and Nigel Worthington’s spell as manager of Northern Ireland are about the same age.  My first post, way back in May 2007, dealt with the IFA’s search for a replacement for Lawrie Sanchez, who had just taken up an English Premier League job at Fulham.

It’s fair to say that after Worthington took charge, I was quickly a sceptic.  As early as 7 June2007, I voiced disillusionment with his tendency to ‘talk down’ players and two months later I asked, for the first (but not for the last) time, ‘is Nigel worthy?’.  

Now Worthington has announced his intention to leave the post after his current contract elapses on 31st December.   We’ve come full circle and the IFA has to start the search for his successor.

Back in that opening blogpost I expressed the hope that Jim Magilton would end up in the Northern Ireland hot-seat.  More than four years later and this time the West Belfast man is the bookmakers’ favourite to take over from Worthington.

If Magilton does get the job he will have a formidable task ahead. 

Back in 2007 Sanchez left the Northern Ireland set-up comparatively healthy, but it doesn’t look nearly so robust in 2011.  The playing staff are low in confidence, each match sees a series of high profile cry-offs and the FAI’s poaching strategy is beginning to seriously affect the pool of players which a new manager will have at his disposal.

Worthington is gone and there’s no point labouring the point, but he has to take a share of the blame for the depressing state of Northern Ireland football. 

The belittling comments about his own players started as soon as he took the job and continued throughout his reign. 

He scarcely made any attempt to ensure that squad members turned up for international duty rather than crying off injured at the behest of their clubs; let’s face it, if he had, he wouldn’t have had a shred of credibility.

Nigel himself was the worst offender when he was manager of Norwich City.  He persistently withdrew Phil Mulryne and Paul McVeigh from Northern Ireland squads, until Lawrie Sanchez was forced to invoke the 5 day rule, which prevents players playing for their clubs until 5 days after an international match for which they’ve declared injured.

Far from showing contrition, Worthington vehemently defended his conduct, even after he’d become an international manager.  

How could his complaints be taken seriously when other club bosses did exactly the same thing?
On the poaching issue he was confused and hypocritical.  He didn’t seem to understand FIFA’s eligibility criteria and he often resorted to contradictory arguments about players playing for the country in which they were born.

That’s before we get to the slow, tedious style of play which he inculcated.  He couldn't seem to grasp that, because 'Northern Ireland aren't Barcelona', as he once witheringly observed, that we have to disrupt teams, play at a high tempo, get the ball forward directly, rather than attempting to play passing football.

In fairness his legacy isn’t all bad.  The new manager will inherit a healthy youth set-up and a scouting network which should help to identify future stars. 

And future stars are sorely needed because at the moment the squad looks rather threadbare.  

There's a nucleus of ageing players, some of whom are retiring, while others fail to get game-time at their clubs.  There's a small handful of players in their prime, some of whom withdraw from squads on a regular basis.  And there is a larger pool of unproven young players, many of whom are now actively being courted by the Republic of Ireland.

Good luck Jim, or whoever else the IFA decides to put faith in.  You're going to need it.  

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