Next Northern Ireland manager: Baraclough and Robinson lead market on O’Neill successorPublished on: April 23, 2020Author: Jamie Clark
The search for the next Northern Ireland manager begins after Michael O’Neill left the role for good.
He had combined coaching his country with a club job at Championship side Stoke City since November.
However, the cancellation of Northern Ireland’s Euro play-offs means a permanent departure for O’Neill.
An IFA statement confirmed his exit and added a successor would be in place for the next international window in September.
O’Neill spent over eight years in charge of Northern Ireland, steering them to the Euro 2016 finals. He is some act to follow.
An early look at the betting with bookmakers sees members of the national setup past and present in prominent positions. The IFA must decide whether to go for continuity or change with their appointment.
The Northern Ireland team of the O’Neill era is largely gone. They are 36th in the world according to FIFA rankings – 16 places down from a record high of 20 in 2017.
Under O’Neill, Northern Ireland climbed over 100 places in those rankings from an all-time low of 129 in 2012. That is the scale of his achievement.
Any successor to O’Neill has a virtually impossible job. Northern Ireland have punched well above their weight, so managing expectations is essential.
Baraclough heads next Northern Ireland manager market
Under-21s boss Ian Baraclough is the odds-on favourite, but has had a somewhat strange coaching career. He found Nigel Adkins’ shoes too difficult to fill at Scunthorpe United in his first post.
Baraclough clearly learned from that experience, however, as he steered Sligo Rovers to their first League of Ireland title for 35 years in 2012. He also took them to domestic cup wins in 2013 and 2014 before leaving.
After then working as a scout for Huddersfield Town, Baraclough was back in management before the year was out.
He joined Scottish Premiership side Motherwell and famously won the 2015 promotion/relegation play-offs beating Rangers in the final.
Baraclough lasted less than a year at Fir Park, however, and left a poor start to the following season.
He then served as assistant to fellow next Northern Ireland manager candidate Stephen Robinson at Oldham Athletic before taking the Under-21s on in 2017.
If the IFA promote Baraclough to senior national team boss, they will be mirroring what the Republic of Ireland did with Stephen Kenny.
In a market lacking lots of alternatives, he’s entitled to be favourite. However, which Baraclough will Northern Ireland be getting?
The one who landed trophies at Sligo and embarrassed Glasgow giants Rangers, or the coach who couldn’t bring Motherwell on from that?
If promoting youth is the plan – be it by design or out of necessity – then Baraclough is best placed to help with that.
Robinson and MacPhee give continuity too
Stephen Robinson was first assistant to Baraclough at Motherwell and also part of the Northern Ireland setup when O’Neill took them to Euro 2016.
The roles were soon reversed with Baraclough at Oldham, however. Robinson has been Motherwell manager since 2017 lasting longer in any club job than his former colleague.
At Fir Park, he has twice guided the team to domestic cup finals in Scotland. The mighty Celtic stood between Robinson and silverware on both occasions.
While he doesn’t have the trophies on his CV like Baraclough, his past within the Northern Ireland setup also involved working with youth teams.
Robinson also has Motherwell third in the Scottish Premiership and best of the rest outside of the Old Firm.
The Lisburn native has to be considered for next Northern Ireland manager, but so does current assistant boss Austin MacPhee.
He lacks the experience of Baraclough and Robinson, but was headhunted by O’Neill and brought into the fold in 2014.
Prior to joining the Northern Ireland setup, MacPhee worked on the backroom staff of Cowdenbeath and St Mirren.
He was also part of Miguel Herrera’s coaching team that Mexico had at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. MacPhee analysed the opposition, but that is something every manager should do.
With no actual experience of being the boss except for in amateur football, the IFA would be gambling on him having the leadership and decision making qualities others already possess.
Healy and McCann interesting outsiders
Long-serving St Johnstone boss and former national goalkeeper Tommy Wright comes next in the next Northern Ireland manager betting.
During his seven years there, the club has never finished below eighth in the Scottish Premiership.
Wright also steered St Johnstone to the Scottish Cup in 2014. Although respected, there are some higher profile names available at bigger odds who could be worth taking a punt on.
Linfield boss David Healy is also Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer. He could dine out on his legendary hat-trick against Spain for the rest of his life.
During five years with Linfield, his first managerial appointment, Healy has won two the NIFL Premiership twice, plus the Irish Cup and NIFL Cup.
His exploits as a player when Northern Ireland were no great shakes do stick out in the memory.
When you consider that Hull City sold their best players in the winter window, boss Grant McCann is a very attractive price to be next Northern Ireland manager.
The Tigers’ owners seem happy to part with their best assets. If that extends to McCann and the IFA are willing to pay compensation, then this is an avenue well worth exploring.
Hull were punching well above their weight during the first half of this season. That was until star forward Jarrod Bowen got sold.
McCann also did well at Doncaster Rovers, reaching the 2019 League One play-offs and Peterborough United – another selling club – beforehand.
It will be interesting to see if the IFA moves to promote from within or whether the next Northern Ireland manager is a respected figure with no ties to O’Neill.