Keith Webb: Nigel Worthington proved he was worthy

Former colleague Keith Webb believes Nigel Worthington’s bitter experience leaving Norwich City played a part in his early departure from international football.

Former colleague Keith Webb believes Nigel Worthington’s bitter experience leaving Norwich City played a part in his early departure from international football.

Worthington announced on Monday he will step down as Northern Ireland manager after Tuesday’s Euro 2012 qualifier in Italy, bringing an end to the province’s failed campaign and the former City manager’s four and a half years at Windsor Park.

Two wins and 13 goals in their last 23 games left the 49-year-old resisting calls for his resignation from some supporters – as well as outspoken comments from predecessor Lawrie Sanchez.

Worthington was sacked from Carrow Road in 2006 after six seasons in charge as City’s bid to return to the Premier League faltered for a second season – and ironically Webb, a coach under Worthington at Colney, owes his new position with Northern Ireland’s Under-17 side to his former boss.

“I know Nigel is a very sensible man and he knows sometimes you have a situation where – let me put it this way – with the experience he had at Norwich, I think he knew the time was right for him to move on from his current job,” said Webb. “I spoke to him a couple of weeks back at a Peterborough game and he was keeping his own counsel really. There were one or two people who were having a chirp; professional people who should know better.

“You understand supporters being unhappy but when people – ex-managers who haven’t done much in their professional career or when they had their time – are having a gripe and saying they could do the job better, it does leave a sour taste.

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“I think Nigel has showed a lot of integrity and showed himself for what he is, which is a good footballing man who always tries to give 100 per cent to whatever job he does.

“I would think Nigel would get back into football no problem. His track record at the clubs he has been at showns he can be successful and he is a good football manager, no question of that.”

Northern Ireland have never made the European Championship finals and have not qualified for a World Cup since 1986 – facts that make dealing with expectations at Windsor Park a tall order.

“When you consider the resources Northern Ireland have got, sometimes expectations can outgrow what the actual reality is,” added Webb.

“You’re talking about a population of fewer than 2m, and then you have got to try and find players who have the necessary quality to win you games at international level. That is not a very easy thing to do, as England found out during the weekend. It’s hard enough when you’ve got world class players, let alone when you’ve got club players that aren’t playing at the highest level all the time.”

Despite Worthington’s resignation, Webb is confident he will continue his own new role under Paul Kee – one that came about through a recommendation from Worthington.

“Nigel mentioned me to Paul for a couple of games in Switzerland against their Under-17s and I jumped at the chance,” said Webb.

“It was a huge feather in our cap to win a match against a highly-ranked side and they were well pleased with what I gave, and have invited me back for the European qualification games in Luxembourg at the end of the month.

“It’s an opportunity to get back coaching elite players and it’s certainly whetted the appetite. Coaching at that level does test you a little bit and I’ve really enjoyed it.”