Football/Soccer

New boss Baraclough says he already feels Northern Irish

Northern Ireland's new senior men's manager Ian Baraclough photographed at Windsor Park.

IAN Baraclough may be an Englishman who’s also worked in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland but he says he feels Northern Irish now – no joke.

The 49-year-old is already part of the IFA fabric, after several years as U21 boss, but he revealed he thought his predecessor Michael O’Neill was perhaps taking the, er, Michael when he talked about the Leicester native succeeding him.

Baraclough has made a good impression on and off the pitch since his first involvement at Windsor Park, however, and that continued as he conducted a lengthy Zoom media conference yesterday.

Asked about becoming only the third senior manager not from NI, after the Lawries McMenemy and Sanchez, he acknowledged:

“Obviously you touch on it and you think about it. I was up against four candidates that were all Northern Irish but all good football people for a start. It wasn't necessarily whether you were Northern Irish or English.

“I feel as though I've worked here for three years and south of border with Sligo [Rovers], so on the island of Ireland it's six, going on seven, years for me, and I love everything about the place.

“I love the people, I love the way they embrace you, I love the way they've certainly made me feel as though I'm one of them. I think it's one of those things, once you're in the process you hope that you're judged on the way you manage, the way you treat people, the way you coach and the way you get your message across, and the way the U21s went and performed.

“I have to thank the players and staff who allowed me to get into this position as well, without them it doesn’t happen. I feel Northern Irish anyway so it wasn't one of those things.”

In a sense, the period of transition from O’Neill to Baraclough began earlier this year, as the new man recalled: “When Michael went to Stoke, were all looking forward to the [Euro play-off] match with Bosnia and Michael asked me to be part of the staff.

“It was a great honour to start with, to be someone he trusted to go to Bosnia and look at hotels, training facilities, the ground, he's shown great faith in me, then to take over the scouting role and co-ordinate the scouts, to get more heavily involved with that senior set-up. It allowed me to see the players first hand, speaking to the players about what they expected in Bosnia. The process, without me realising it, started before then.”

Yet Baraclough insisted that did not expect his elevation, indeed he almost laughed off the suggestion: “I think probably on a couple of occasions I spoke to Michael, I thought he was joking at times, but he was saying, ‘Are you ready? You'd better get yourself ready.’

“It was taken with a bit of light-heartedness but I certainly never took it for granted, I didn't have the expectation to be the successor to Michael at all.

“When I got asked to interview I took it very, very seriously in my preparation, how I put together a presentation and hopefully that shone through. It was something I would never take for granted.”

O’Neill had a wide remit, having been made Chief Football Officer in February 2018, but Baraclough said his focus would be narrower, at least at the outset:

“That position with Michael evolved over the years. That was something I asked during interview, how much responsibility will be on new manager? The response was senior team, obviously overseeing U21s as well, knowing the players further down.

“Michael’s role eventually had a broad spectrum to it but that’s not something that’s been described to me.

“My focus is definitely Romania away, Norway at home [both in the Nations League], building into Bosnia.”

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Football/Soccer