This article appeared on SportsNews Ireland on December 8. I have since learned that Brian Kerr has not even made the IFA’s shortlist. Interesting indeed!
Who should be the next Northern Ireland manager?
The BBC has reported that the Irish Football Association has narrowed down its preferences to a shortlist of six men, with Jim Magilton, Michael O’Neill, Iain Dowie, Gerry Armstrong and Dave Jones said to be on the list. Former Republic of Ireland and Faroe Islands boss Brian Kerr is among the favourites for the job and has repeatedly made his desire to take the job public.
So who is the best candidate? Which man possesses the requisite credentials to take Northern Ireland forward? Will we see managerial teams, or will such a prospect prove too expensive for the IFA?
Former Ipswich Town player and manager Magilton played 52 times for Northern Ireland during his career. Magilton was fiery midfielder with a no-nonsense attitude on the pitch and he appears to have carried this attitude on to his managerial philosophy. For example, the Belfast man was shrouded in acrimony when, as manager of QPR, he allegedly head-butted his own player during a post-match dressing room confrontation. This incident apparently led to Magilton’s decision to leave QPR at the end of 2009. After a period in managerial wilderness, Magilton joined his compatriot Michael O’Neill as the assistant manager of Irish champions Shamrock Rovers. Magilton is considered by many bookmakers to be the favourite for the job, but he may end up forming a managerial team
“My future is very much up in the air to be honest and the Northern Ireland job is very attractive, no doubt about that.”. Those were O’Neill’s words in mid-November. Like Jim Magilton, O’Neill is a young manager at 42 years of age and is also a former Northern Ireland international, having played 33 times during his career. However, despite his emphatic success as manager of one of Ireland’s biggest football teams, O’Neill cannot yet boast an impressive CV, his experience prior to Shamrock Rovers limited to his time as manager of Scottish Second Division outfit Brechin City from 2006 to 2008. Therefore, considering this relative lack of experience, it is thought that, were Michael O’Neill to take the Northern Ireland job, his current assistant Jim Magilton would help form a managerial team contributing his greater experience to the IFA’s cause.
English born Dowie is another former Northern Ireland international who scored 12 goals in his 59 appearances. Dowie’s snarling visage has gone down in football’s hall of infamy and, like Magilton, he is widely acknowledged to champion a strict approach. Out of all the touted candidates Dowie has one of the most extensive CVs, having managed six clubs, including Crystal Palace, Coventry and Hull City, but he has yet to steer the fortunes of an international team. Nevertheless he ticks many of the boxes for the Irish Football Association.
The newly appointed “Elite Player Mentor”, Gerry Armstrong has been tremendously vocal about his attempts to stop players from Northern Ireland opting to play for the Republic of Ireland and he has indeed been quite vocal about his desire to manage Northern Ireland. A legend of Northern Ireland football folklore, the World Cup hero has the advantage of having worked as an assistant to Bryan Hamilton and Lawrie Sanchez when they managed the team. However, Armstrong’s managerial CV boasts only the lowly Worthing F.C., which, even at that, was a very short-lived venture. Rather than being appointed as manager, it is possible that Armstrong will reprise his previous role as assistant manager to a more suitable candidate.
Dave Jones is the only candidate without a connection to Northern Ireland, but since being sacked from his job at Cardiff City, Jones has reportedly expressed an interest in taking over the reins. Jones has managed clubs in the top flight of English football, including Southampton and Wolves and has suffered the agony of narrowly missing out on promotion with Cardiff on three occasions. With the IFA looking for a man who is particularly aware of issues facing Northern Ireland football, Jones may not be the right man for the job, although his CV stands strong against the rest.
Although considered by some Northern Ireland fans as a non-runner due to his history as manager of the Republic of Ireland, Kerr is the only candidate who boasts extensive experience in the realm of international management. He has steered Republic of Ireland youth teams to success on the world stage as well as managing the Republic’s senior team when Mick McCarthy stepped down. Interestingly, Kerr’s Faroe Islands managed a draw with Northern Ireland in the European Championships Qualifiers, as well as doing what Nigel Worthington failed to do in defeating Estonia. Despite the apparent unease among sections of the Northern Ireland support, Kerr, like Iain Dowie has parents from Northern Ireland. However if he is appointed, I would expect a secondary role for someone such as Gerry Armstrong to soften the blow of having an ex-Republic of Ireland manager from Dublin as the Northern Ireland manager.