Ian Baraclough: The rigorous, dedicated tactician set to lead Northern Ireland in post-O'Neill world

Ian Baraclough (left) in the Sligo dugout with Gary Stevens
Ian Baraclough's assistant for most of his Sligo spell was former Tottenham and England defender Gary Stevens

Stepping into the shoes of Michael O'Neill, the man who transformed Northern Ireland, seems a daunting task.

But it is unlikely to faze Ian Baraclough, the quietly impressive tactician the Irish Football Association has chosen as his successor.

The Leicester-born coach ticks a lot of boxes for the IFA. After three years with the Northern Ireland Under-21s, he represents the strongest possibility of achieving continuity from the O'Neill era, while he is well-suited to shaping the nation's next generation having already prepped them for the rigours of international football.

Baraclough is set to be thrown in at the deep end with the Euro 2021 play-offs, Nations League and World Cup qualifiers to come over the course of his 18-month contract.

However, the 49-year-old will likely relish the intense workload, as Gary Stevens - Baraclough's assistant manager at Sligo Rovers between 2013 and 2014 - explains.

"From the minute Ian got up in the morning to the minute he went to bed at night, it was just total football," the former Tottenham Hotspur and England defender told BBC Sport NI.

No stone unturned

Stevens, a UEFA Cup winner with Spurs in 1984, joined Baraclough's backroom team at Sligo in January 2013, just months after he had guided the club to the League of Ireland title in his first year in charge, succeeding O'Neill at the top of the division after his back-to-back successes with Shamrock Rovers.

Stevens met Baraclough while they studied for their Uefa Pro Licence, but it was on the west coast of Ireland where they forged an effective working relationship which included renting a house together.

"His organisation, planning and the depth into which he went with everything, whether it was planning a training session or a match, or reviewing a session, or recruitment of players, was always very thorough," recalls Stevens.

"He was very calm and in control, but everyone knew when he wasn't happy."

While Baraclough was unable to lead Sligo to a second successive title, alongside Stevens they won the 2013 FAI Cup and the Setanta Cup the following year.

Baraclough left Sligo in June 2014 following a string of disappointing results. Later that year, he joined Motherwell, where he would spend nine months before a spell at Oldham Athletic as assistant manager to Stephen Robinson.

Then, in May 2017, he was appointed Northern Ireland Under-21 manager.

"I always felt that when he secured that position with the Under-21s that there was a pathway for him to work higher up in the organisation," said Stevens.

"I thought he would do well with the Under-21s, and he did exceptionally well."

Danny Ventre and Ian Baracough celebrate Sligo's League of Ireland title triumph in 2012
Danny Ventre was Baraclough's skipper at Sligo Rovers when they landed the League of Ireland title in 2012

Encouraging track record

While O'Neill was tasked with improving the international team following their dismal Euro 2012 qualifying campaign under Nigel Worthington, Baraclough will be expected to build on the foundations established during his predecessor's successful eight-year reign.

While he will likely introduce new ideas, there appears a willingness to maintain a link to the O'Neill years, as evidenced by keeping Jimmy Nicholl on the coaching staff.

Encouragingly, his track record in overseeing evolution, not revolution, is stellar.

In February 2012, as O'Neill was preparing for his first game as the Green and White Army's new leader, Baraclough was parachuted into Sligo on the eve of the new League of Ireland campaign.

At that stage, the former Queen Park Rangers player's experience in the dugout amounted to a six-month spell at League One strugglers Scunthorpe United, which culminated in his dismissal in March 2011.

Sligo had enjoyed a successful five-year period under Paul Cook, who guided the Bit O'Red to back-to-back FAI Cups in 2010 and 2011.

But Baraclough was able to build on Cook's work to deliver the side's first title in 35 years.

'He wasn't a shouter or a bawler'

Danny Ventre, Baraclough's captain at The Showgrounds, believes that experience will stand the new Northern Ireland boss in good stead.

"When he first came in, it was the day before the 2012 season started, so it was Cook's team, but there were no big changes to the formation, the set-up or the players," recalls Ventre.

"He knew the success we were having anyway and just went with it."

Ventre, who was at Sligo between 2007 and 2013, remembers Baraclough as a quiet operator, his style contrasting sharply with Cook's more energetic approach.

"He wasn't a shouter or a bawler," said Ventre, who now coaches Blackpool's Under-18 team.

"When he did say something, it stuck with you. He wouldn't say so much but when he did it was worth its value.

"But he could go after players if they weren't pulling their weight."

Gavin Peers played on Baraclough's League of Ireland title-winning Sligo Rovers side in 2012
Former Sligo Rovers player Gavin Peers says Baraclough will not be fazed by the Northern Ireland job

Familiar pathway

Glentoran defender Gavin Peers, an ever-present during Sligo's 2012 title-winning campaign, believes Baraclough can find success given his knowledge of working within the IFA's structure.

"It's kind of like what the FAI have done with Stephen Kenny," says Dubliner Peers.

"It'll be good for him because he knows the young players and will have the chance to develop them.

"He's very level-headed - he's not going to be fazed by the job. He'll do really well, but hopefully not against Kenny!"

Whereas O'Neill exceeded expectations at Windsor Park, it remains to be seen how the Baraclough chapter pans out.

But judging by his time at Sligo, he certainly seems to have the drive and dedication needed to lead the Green and White Army.

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