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Reds legend linked with Northern Ireland

Folwer tipped for challenging post

By | 20th October 2011

After yet another disappointing campaign under Nigel Worthington, and a continuation of the unenviable streak that will now see Northern Ireland fail to make a major tournament for at least 32 years, the IFA will seek out a new manager to try and reverse the fortunes of the small nation who have struggled in recent years for both talent and results on the international playing field.

Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, currently managing club side Muathong United in Thailand, has reportedly expressed his interest to Warren Feeney about applying for the job. The 36 year old undoubtedly has a wealth of playing experience at the highest level, but with their world ranking steadily worsening, and the stream of those choosing to play for the Republic of Ireland slowly growing stronger, Fowler could be getting into deeper water than he thinks.

Formerly filled with reputable stars from a host of top British clubs, the top two players for Northern Ireland at present are Jonny Evans of Manchester United and Chris Brunt, West Brom’s captain. In their most recent squad for the last two Euro 2012 qualifiers, the vast majority of players were from the Football League or an SPL side, including inexperienced and little known youngsters like Conor McLaughlin (Preston North End), Lee Hodson (Watford), and Andrew Little (Port Vale-loan from Rangers).

Others who are heavily relied upon to contribute are Warren Feeney (Plymouth), David Healy (Rangers), and Maik Taylor (unattached) have all had serious struggles with their club form, which seems to have carried over to the Northern Ireland set-up. During the qualification campaign, there were few bright spots, namely a 0-0 home draw with Italy and a 1-0 triumph over Slovenia in Ljubljana.

However, they also drew 1-1 with the Faroe Islands away, were beaten twice by Estonia, and lost twice to Serbia. Friendly results have been poor too, with a 5-0 hammering in Dublin at the hands of the Republic, accompanied with losses against Wales and Scotland making the first Carling Nations Cup a true disaster for Northern Ireland.

Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and Shane Duffy would all walk into the Northern Irish team as integral members of the senior side. However, they have decided to play for the Republic based on family reasons, and to date none have made much of an impact, with Duffy yet to make a senior appearance.

These high-profile players mask the true meaning, as even unheralded names like Eunan O’Kane of Torquay United, and Paul George of Celtic, who is just 17, have also declared their allegiances to the Republic.

A recent Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling protects the right of those born in Northern Ireland to represent the Republic based on their ability to hold an Irish passport, granted in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that is seen as the first blow to end violence in Northern Ireland, and the start of the peace process. And Shane Ferguson, who has appeared for the senior side in a friendly match against Italy two years ago, is now the latest one rumored to be considering his future after continually rejecting Nigel Worthington’s calls for the senior side.

In the latest edition of the FIFA World Rankings, the Republic sit 25th, while Northern Ireland are 84th, behind even Wales. Whilst Fowler’s determination to land a big job is admirable, and it would undoubtedly provide him with valuable experience, it seems that a better opportunity could yet arise.

Though Fowler is a Liverpool legend, he would need a comprehensive briefing of the Northern Irish football culture, and given recent developments, the culture of the island as a whole. It may be best to wait for a better opportunity, whether for a club team or a national side, to come along for the man affectionately known as “God” by the Kop.

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