Jim in the frame for Irish job

THE Irish FA have earmarked Jim Magilton as a possible successor to Lawrie Sanchez as Northern Ireland manager.But the Blues boss admits he is a 'million miles away' from stepping up to the international stage as a manager.

By Derek Davis

THE Irish FA have earmarked Jim Magilton as a possible successor to Lawrie Sanchez as Northern Ireland manager.

But the Blues boss admits he is a 'million miles away' from stepping up to the international stage as a manager.

With Sanchez guiding Northern Ireland to the top of Group F after David Healy's two goals helped beat Sweden, the Irish are desperate to hold on to Sanchez.

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But the former Wycombe Wanderers manager, whose current contract expires in December, has made it clear he is keen to return to club management at some stage.

Irish FA chief executive Howard Wells, who held a similar position with Ipswich Town in 1999, is scheduled to hold talks with Sanchez in April about a new contract, which would see Sanchez still in charge if they qualify for the 2008 European Championships in Austria & Switzerland, and beyond.

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Wells is hopeful that Sanchez renews his contract and refused to talk specifically about any possible successor, although Magilton is an obvious candidate.

He said: “We are very happy with the job Lawrie Sanchez is doing and want him to continue as manager. We plan to have talks with him in the very near future about him staying and we are hopeful he will be here for the longer term. If that doesn't happen then we will consider our options after that.”

Sanchez, who has lifted Northern Ireland from 118th in the FIFA world rankings to 47th, is in a strong negotiating position but also appreciates his stock is high among league chairmen.

He was last night being cagey about his future and will not give anything away until after his meeting with the IFA.

He said: “We will find some time to perhaps have a chat to see what we might do.

“Sometime I will leave when my star is not shining so brightly.

“We have just beaten Sweden and I'm just enjoying the victory.

“A manager is only as good as his last game and the future will take care of itself.”

As a former captain of his country with 52 caps to his name, Belfast-born Magilton is seen as a future Northern Ireland manager, even if it is not in the relatively near future.

Even though his brother-in-law Steve Staunton took over as Republic of Ireland boss without any club management experience, Magilton is not even considering the possibility of international management just yet, although he admits he would love to be his country's manager one day.

He said: “I'm a million miles away from managing Northern Ireland, maybe one day but not for a while yet. It is very flattering to be talked about in that way but I have not even done a full season with Ipswich yet.

“There is a lot of work still to be done at Ipswich and it is a job I'm immensely proud to be doing and enjoying doing.

“Anyway, following Lawrie Sanchez, no thanks. He has done an amazing job. It speaks volumes that Northern Ireland are top of our group and with a great chance of qualifying.”

Ironically, Sanchez was one of those interviewed about the vacant Ipswich manager's job last summer before Magilton was appointed, after Wells gave the Blues permission to speak to their manager.

Ipswich would be loath to lose their former skipper, who is still rebuilding the Blues and is confident of mounting a serious premiership promotion challenge next season.

Blues chairman David Sheepshanks said: “I have not spoken with anyone from Northern Ireland about Jim. He has a big job here and one that I know he is focusing on.”

Magilton would not be the first man with strong Ipswich connections to manage the Irish, with Bryan Hamilton having been in charge between 1994 and 1998.

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