Northern Ireland have announced that they have sacked Ian Baraclough following a poor campaign in the UEFA Nations League.
This decision comes after Northern Ireland collected just five points from a possible 18 in Group C. They subsequently battled relegation after hoping for promotion.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: “Under Ian’s stewardship we have seen the introduction of new players who will wear the green jersey with pride for years to come and for this we place on record our gratitude.
“However, in light of the overall record of results on the pitch, the Irish FA board has subsequently taken this decision.”
Baraclough stepped up from Northern Ireland’s under-21s to replace Michael O’Neill in June 2020 but won only six of his 28 games in charge inside 90 minutes, also beating Bosnia & Herzegovina on penalties, missing out on both the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 and this year’s World Cup.
But although he succeeded in one major part of his brief – bringing through players from the under-21s – it was the Nations League that cost the former Scunthorpe and Motherwell boss his job.
The Green and White Army turned on Baraclough in June, when disappointing draws home and away to Cyprus came alongside a home defeat to Greece and a loss away to Kosovo.
In September, Northern Ireland scored twice in the last 10 minutes to come from behind and beat Kosovo 2-1 at Windsor Park, their first ever Nations League win in a record that dated back to O’Neill’s era – but days later they lost 3-1 to Greece in Athens in what proved to be Baraclough’s final game.
That defeat left Northern Ireland reliant on Kosovo’s win over Cyprus to avoid relegation to League D. After the match, senior players including captain Steven Davis and vice-captain Jonny Evans had backed Baraclough to turn things around.
Less than two weeks ago Baraclough attended the Euro 2024 qualifying draw, in which Northern Ireland, seeded in pot five, got a relatively favourable draw against Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino.
In December last year, Baraclough had signed a two-year contract extension to take him through to Euro 2024, with the promise it would be extended again if Northern Ireland qualified for the tournament.
However, there were reports the IFA board was split over his future and that came to a head on Thursday night.
Baraclough helped young players such as Dan Ballard, Ali McCann and Conor Bradley establish themselves and blooded several others – with the 18-year-old Shea Charles one of the stand-outs of the June fixtures.
But he can argue he was swimming upstream throughout his time in charge.
Having replaced the popular O’Neill during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, he began his tenure behind closed doors, unable to take advantage of the huge backing Northern Ireland always get at Windsor Park, and deprived of the chance to build an early relationship with fans.
Several key players were absent through injury at crunch times, and the Nations League format meant youngsters had to be thrown into competitive matches to make their debuts.
Last month’s fixtures were overshadowed by controversy too. Kyle Lafferty, 35, was sent home from the squad after a video emerged of him using sectarian language after a team bonding meal – the Kilmarnock striker was handed a 10-match ban by the Scottish Football Association on Thursday.
Glentoran winger Conor McMenamin was also left out of the squad for the Kosovo match after an historic video of him singing a pro-IRA chant emerged, though he did travel to Greece after it was deemed the matter had been dealt with at the time.
The process of replacing Baraclough will now begin, but with the IFA having no plans to play during next month’s international window, they have time before the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign starts away to San Marino in March.
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