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Ian Baraclough On Managing Northern Ireland And His Future Ambitions

Ian Baraclough On Managing Northern Ireland And His Future Ambitions

An interview with Ian Baraclough, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

Your most recent role was with the Irish FA as Northern Ireland under-21s manager from 2017 to 2020 before taking over as National Team manager from 2020 until 2022. What were the differences between both roles and how would you sum up your time with Northern Ireland as a whole?

“I absolutely loved it because I was working alongside great people and within an association that is striving for progress.

“They are realistic to know that it is unlikely that they will reach every single World Cup or European Championships, but the aim is to aim as high as possible.

“When I took over the under-21s, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity for me as I love working with young players and helping them to progress.

“Thankfully, we were able to do just that as with the under-21s because we were able to end long unbeaten runs both at home and away from home in competitive competition. Those results were a big step in the right direction.

“We ended up winning six games of our ten qualifying games in my first campaign including a win against Spain in Albacete.

“The Spanish team featured players such as Carlos Soler, Borja Mayoral and Pablo Fornals – now of PSG, Getafe and West Ham respectively – which emphasises just how strong the side that we faced was.

“Furthermore, it was the first time that the Spanish under-21 side had lost at home for ten years so to be involved in such an evening was amazing for the players, my staff and I.

“Then, things changed in 2020 when Michael O’Neill was offered the Stoke City job, and I was appointed as manager of the senior national team.

“It was an honour to be appointed to the job and I worked alongside good players and good people.

“We came close to qualifying for Euro 2020 by beating nations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach the qualification playoffs. Unfortunately, we just came up short in the end against a strong Slovakia side who scored in extra time to defeat us 2-1 over the course of the tie.

“Then, in the qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup, we were in a group with Italy and Switzerland which was as tough an ask as any.

“Despite that, we finished third in the group ahead of Bulgaria and Lithuania and did not concede a goal at home in the qualifying campaign as a whole.

“Overall, I am proud of the job that I did at Northern Ireland with the under-21 side and the senior national team in a five-and-a-half-year period. It was a shame not to be given the opportunity to take the Euro 2024 campaign because I felt that we had a favourable draw and could do well within it.”

You started coaching towards the end of your career at Scunthorpe United as you combined playing with coaching. What was it like working both on and off the pitch in such a manner?

“Becoming a player-coach with Scunthorpe United gave me an invaluable lead into the world of coaching and, what it would entail should I want to continue upon that journey when I eventually retired.

“I learned a lot working under Nigel Adkins who was the manager that I was working alongside and playing for. We won promotion to the Championship via the Playoffs in 2009 when I was on the staff which was a fantastic experience.

“The club means a lot to me, and it has been a shame to see where the club has been at in recent years, but I hope that they can now regroup and rejuvenate under new ownership.”

You become Scunthorpe United on a caretaker basis – before ultimately becoming permanent manager a couple of weeks later – when Nigel Adkins departs the club for Southampton in 2010. Did you feel ready to become a manager at that time considering that you had just retired from playing?

“I am honest enough to admit that I probably was not ready to become a first-team manager at that time.

“In truth, Nigel wanted to take me to Southampton with him and my bags were packed as I thought that I would be going with him.

“However, Scunthorpe United stipulated that Nigel could only take one member of staff with him to Southampton which led to Andy Crosby leaving the club with Nigel.

“After those discussions, the club asked me to take over in the interim and I questioned whether I was ready but I also knew that there was an opportunity in front of me that might not come along again quickly.

“Therefore, I took the job and it was a baptism of fire for me as I had not long retired, and I was leaving the dressing room to enter the manager’s office within a relatively quick timescale.

“I had to make tough decisions on players that I played with and whom I was friends with which was difficult, but I wanted to take the challenge on because another manager could have arrived at the club and not wanted me to stay anyway so I wanted to back myself to take the job and give it my best shot.”

You departed Scunthorpe in 2011 before joining Sligo Rovers as manager in 2012 where you won a league title and two cup competitions. How much did your experience at Scunthorpe United stand you in good stead for your second managerial job?

“It certainly stood me in good stead because the task at hand was a challenge over in the League of Ireland.

“Dundalk were on the rise and spending money to compete for trophies as were Shamrock Rovers.

“It was notoriously difficult to take the league title away from Dublin when I arrived at the club, so much so that when we won the league title at Sligo Rovers, it was their first league title in 35 years.

“Dundalk were able to replicate our success a few years later but to achieve a historic league title victory in my first season at the club was the perfect start.

“The whole town backed us from the moment that I arrived and when we defeated St Patrick’s Athletic to win the title, the ground was completely sold out and the celebrations were incredible.

“Winning the title took us into the Champions League qualifiers and we also played in the Europa League qualifiers during my time at the club.

“It was a remarkable few years for me at Sligo Rovers and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of testing myself in a new league that I had not worked in previously.

“I have many great memories from my time at the club and Sligo holds a special place in my heart.”

Post Sligo, you managed Scottish Premiership side Motherwell. How do you reflect on your time there? 

“I arrived in the December of 2014 and the aim that I was given was to keep the club in the Scottish Premiership.

“They were not in the best shape when I arrived with a place in the bottom two of the league, so I had to get to grips with the squad and recruit new players to the squad to try and give us a fresh impetus in the second half of the season.

“We tried to build a togetherness within the group and even though, we finished in 11th place and faced a playoff to stay in the league, we backed ourselves to get through it.

“We were up against Rangers in the two-legged playoff. They were battling their way back to the Scottish Premiership after a few years in the lower leagues and it seemed like everyone in Scotland backed Rangers to beat us and return to the top flight.

“Much of the media was focussed on what the season after the playoff would be like with Rangers back in the top flight. In the end, that helped motivate us even more.

“We defeated Rangers 3-1 at Ibrox to give ourselves a strong advantage ahead of the second leg which we would be playing at Fir Park.

“From there, we went on to beat Rangers in the return leg 3-0 to secure a 6-1 victory on aggregate.

“People might say that it was not the Rangers that they think of now, but they were making their way through the leagues, and they spent money on players who were internationals so for us to beat them in the manner that we did was impressive and a good achievement for our group of players.

“After securing safety, we had to conduct a rebuild of the squad in the summer and I spoke to the club and emphasised that it would take time to get right so to only be given seven games into the new season was a massive disappointment for me.

“That being said, there are some great people at Motherwell and the fans were tremendous during my time there.”

As a player, you represented clubs such as Leicester City, Notts County, QPR and Scunthorpe United. What are your standout memories from your playing days?

“I actually started my career as a striker alongside Paul Kitson at Leicester City before becoming a defensive footballer who could play in defence or midfield.

“I left Leicester to drop down a few divisions when it became clear that it would be a tough ask to break into the team.

“I played for clubs such as Grimsby Town, Lincoln City and Mansfield before joining Notts County in 1995.

“The highlights of my career would be at Notts County and Scunthorpe United because I was able to experience promotions and playoff successes. Those experiences are few and far between in the career of any footballer, so it is important to remember and cherish the highs when they come around.

“Overall, I was fortunate not to pick up many injuries in my career which enabled me to play over 700 professional games. That is something that I am very proud of.”

Finally, Ian, what do you hope to achieve in the future as a manager?

“I am open to working across the U.K. and Ireland or to working abroad.

“I am open to returning to club football or international football and I believe that I have a strong CV with lots of experience within football at various levels.

“I would not rule out working as a coach under a manager at this moment in time either and I am also studying for a masters degree in sporting directorship as I strive to improve myself in that area of the game too.

“I am always learning, and I look forward to returning to the game soon because I love football and working to improve footballers individually and collectively.”