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Where next after Worthington for Northern Ireland?

With Northern Ireland's qualification campaign ending in embarrassment and acrimony, Nigel Worthington has stepped down as manager. Ralph Hewitt examines the evidence

So Nigel Worthington has finally jumped before he was pushed, calling it a day as Northern Ireland manager. Cue the rumours for the lucky person who will try to lead our wee country to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Former Northern Ireland internationals Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie have already thrown their names into the hat, while former manager Sammy McIlroy claims he would âÂÂcrawl on hands and kneesâ to manage his country for a second time. Fellow former boss Lawrie Sanchez didn't even wait for Worthington to walk, having already articulated his desire to return, saying last month that "the writing was on the wall" for the then current boss. 

Among the other names to have popped up are Linfield manager David Jeffrey and former Republic of Ireland international Roy Keane. I love rumours.

As for WorthingtonâÂÂs ill-fated tenure as boss, I personally feel he has been hard done by during his time at the helm. Especially with some of the abuse he was getting towards the end by the supposed best fans in the world.

Thank you and goodnight: Worthington leaves the job

OK, I know that we've only won two out of our last 23 international games, but 11 of those have been friendles and we all know how our best players love to pull out of those games. Also, look at the qualifying defeats to Serbia and Estonia: they came down to individual mistakes by players, which was hardly WorthingtonâÂÂs fault.

Young players switching their allegiance to the Republic is killing us. Having come through the Northern Ireland youth teams, Manchester UnitedâÂÂs Darron Gibson, StokeâÂÂs Marc Wilson, Everton's Shane Duffy and most recently SunderlandâÂÂs James McClean have all switched their allegiance to the Republic.

The unusual ability to switch nations dates back to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Designed to bring peace to Northern Ireland, the agreement allows those born in the north to choose their sporting allegiance. With FIFA claiming powerlessness due to the agreement's entrenchment in the country's political system, the IFA have taken the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport â but the problem remains.

In a bid to stop this, Worthington spent an amazing amount of time â especially compared to Lawrie Sanchez â working with the under-age squads. Northern Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong was even appointed the IFAâÂÂs elite player mentor to try and stem the flow of players switching to the other side.

We do have the quality, at least in our starting XI, to qualify for a major tournament â or at least do better than finish fifth in the qualifying group. It has to be said that Worthington adopted some very questionable tactics during his time as manager.

Steve Davis is by far Rangersâ best player. Chris Baird, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans play every week in the English Premier League. Craig Cathcart has a season in the top flight under his belt with Blackpool and Kyle Lafferty is finally starting to look like a half-decent striker. This is a team that is most definitely capable of finishing more than one place above the Faroe Islands.

Is this first XI good enough to qualify?

In all honesty I'd have been happy enough if Worthington had stayed on â and took a massive pay cut. However, once he lost the support of the majority of supporters he was always on a slippery slope. As for the miniscule minority of supporters who made it personal: they need to wise up â he tried his best.

Time to look forward now. Who will take on one of the hardest international posts in the world? And why is it one of the hardest? The expectation by the fans is unfairly huge, the majority of the players he has to choose from arenâÂÂt great, the Republic will continue to poach whoever they want and the fact is, it's Northern Ireland.

Dowie, Magilton, Keane, Jeffrey and McIlroy have all been mentioned. I'd have liked the IFA to approach Martin OâÂÂNeill, although his wages would probably be way too much and the former Celtic manager quickly indicated he was waiting to get back into club management.

Martin O'Neill was always less likely than Michael OâÂÂNeill, the 33-cap international now managing Shamrock Rovers with Magilton as his assistant. That partnership is considered a dream team by many Northern Ireland fans and would certainly be popular among the players but would it work? They have enjoyed moderate success at Shamrock by qualifying for the Europa League; whether they could step up to the international scene as a double act remains to be seen, and it would certainly be a risk by the IFA.

As for Armstrong, he decided he would love to manage his country but only on a part-time basis. To be fair, so would I, especially if I lived in Spain.

Pat Rice and Brian Kerr have been whispered. Rice would certainly have the experience after working at Arsenal for all those years, while Kerr knows all about surprise results, having led the Faroes to a 1-1 draw with, erm, Northern Ireland.

IâÂÂll throw at you some more names mentioned on betting websites: Walter Smith, Paul Ince, Alan Curbishley, Ronnie McFall, Alan McDonald, Brendan Rodgers and David Healy. Have fun picking your way through them.

IFA President Jim Shaw has said that the next manager will be from Northern Ireland but I feel Shaw should appoint the right man for the job, regardless of background.

It's the players who have let us down in the past, either through pull-outs or poor performances. Maik Taylor blasted team-mates who pulled out of the game against Italy: âÂÂThere is a sense of resentment among the lads who do turn up and put their necks on the line for the country.â If thatâÂÂs the case, then the new man will have to deal with these players who continually pull out if we are ever to mount a strong qualifying campaign.

As for the young players coming through, it all looks positive. I saw Josh Carson and Ryan McLaughlin play in the Under-19 tournament last week and they were fantastic. And at the highest level, despite losing 3-0 to Italy, the young guys who actually bothered to turn up for the senior squad did well.

The IFA have said they will wait until after December to make their decision on who will take over. A friend asked at the weekend if I thought Nigel Worthington could lead us to Brazil. I replied that I thought not â but I donâÂÂt think anyone else can either. Hopefully the new manager will prove a few people wrong.