Following his appointment as Northern Ireland manager, Ian Baraclough is two wins away from reaching the finals of a major tournament already – but who is he?
The 49-year-old has been working with the Irish Football Association for a number of years and has been promoted from his job as U21s boss as the IFA look for a continuation of the heralded Michael O’Neill era.
Born in Leicester, Baraclough was a player for Queens Park Rangers, Notts County and Scunthorpe before managing the latter in 2010, having originally been appointed first-team coach under Nigel Adkins.
He moved to the Republic of Ireland to take the reins at Sligo Rovers, leading them to their first league title in 35 years, before his appointment at the IFA via a spell as assistant to Stephen Robinson – one of his rivals for the job – at Oldham.
As U21 manager he masterminded the remarkable transformation of a side that had won just once in 24 games, winning three of his first four matches, including a 2-1 win in 2018 over Spain, which included big names such as Borja Mayoral, Mikel Oyarzabal, and West Ham’s Pablo Fornals.
Working closely with O’Neill
Baraclough has worked closely with O’Neill during his time in the role, and eleven members of his U21 side have earned senior caps under the now Stoke City manager, including Burnley goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Norwich left-back Jamal Lewis, who have since become regulars, and Gavin Whyte.
Baraclough, who spent almost a year as manager of Motherwell until late 2015, began to take a more prominent role with the senior setup since it was announced O’Neill would leave the job after the Euro 2020 playoff against Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was postponed due to coronavirus, in March.
Baraclough was scouting seniors playing for their clubs in the early part of this year, including Oxford’s Mark Sykes when he produced an impressive performance against Newcastle in the FA Cup, and he was due to travel to Bosnia as part of the coaching team for the play-off, before the pandemic put sport on hold and prematurely ended O’Neill’s reign.
The IFA’s desire for continuity put Baraclough and current Motherwell boss Robinson as the favourites going into last week’s interview process in Belfast, where Baraclough edged out his ex-boss and the other candidates; former St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright, IFA elite performance director Jim Magilton and NI women’s manager Kenny Shiels.
Continuity key for the IFA
The interviews focused heavily on how each manager would approach the crunch Bosnia-Herzegovina tie this October, but the long-term vision was also key to securing the role. A forensic knowledge of Northern Ireland football became key, and Baraclough, Robinson, Wright and Magilton have all been part of the set-up under O’Neill.
The Northern Ireland players were invited to offer their thoughts on what they felt made O’Neill’s spell so positive, as the association attempted to ensure minimal disruption to a methodology that has worked for them.
At least one other well-known manager, who has spent most of his career in England, was informally offered to the IFA but their clear brief eliminated any desire for a risk appointment so close to such a pivotal game.
Baraclough’s in-tray will be dominated by October game, with a possible play-off final against Slovakia or Republic of Ireland in Belfast on the cards should they win.
Long term, he will need to find solutions as key players near the end of their careers, most notably the influential captain Steven Davis, and he must also fill the shoes of O’Neill, who delivered one of the most successful periods in Northern Ireland’s history.