KEITH LASLEY admits he is pleasantly surprised after Northern Ireland chose to overlook Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson for the top job at Windsor Park.
The Steelmen assistant manager feared the worst when Robinson was granted permission to discuss the vacancy with the Irish Football Association last week. Former St Johnstone gaffer Tommy Wright and Jim Magilton were also interviewed.
However, the IFA decided to appoint ex-Well manager Ian Baraclough – who has impressed with the nation’s under-21 side since May 2017 – as the successor to Michael O’Neill.
Lasley is better placed than most to analyse the strengths of both candidates, having played under Baraclough at Fir Park for nine months and worked alongside Robinson for the past three years.
He is ecstatic that Robinson is staying at Motherwell but concedes that the IFA’s call raised an eyebrow.
Lasley said: “As soon as you hear his name mentioned and see that he is being interviewed, you think to yourself: ‘He’d going to have a really good chance.’ Especially having worked alongside him and seen just how impressive he is.
“I’m actually a little bit surprised that he isn’t the new Northern Ireland manager – but absolutely delighted from a Motherwell perspective.
“We feel like we are building a good young squad here, we have European football to look forward to and there is the potential to improve even further. Yes, we had a good campaign last year, but we think we can get even better.
“The news that the manager is staying to lead that next season is massive for us.”
Lasley added: “Even from a personal point of view, to have that continued opportunity to learn alongside him and grow as a coach is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Lasley is adamant there will be no hangover from Robinson’s failure to land the manager’s role with his country.
Motherwell have already snapped up Ricki Lamie, Jordan White, Nathan McGinley, Scott Fox and Mark O’Hara ahead their impending return to Europe, while Lasley insists they can improve on their impressive domestic showing of last term.
And he says Robinson’s enthusiasm for that task is evident.
He continued: “It’s not as if he will be coming back to the club with a sense of disappointment. He is fully up for this season and has put plans in place for a really strong campaign.
“That’s been illustrated by the two weeks we’ve had back in training. You can see the enthusiasm he has for building this team and continuing to drive it forward.
“I know for a fact that Stephen is really excited about the season ahead and what this group can achieve.”
Baraclough, meanwhile, can toast a remarkable rise since being sacked by Motherwell less than a year after his appointment.
He secured Premiership survival in May 2015 with a memorable 6-1 aggregate win over Rangers in the playoffs, but that proved to be the high-point of his tenure and he was dismissed after taking just seven points from their first eight league games of the 2015/16 campaign.
Lasley recalled: “Ian did a lot of decent things at Motherwell. He brought in some good players, his communication was good and the ideas on the training pitch were clear.
“But, as can happen in football, it just seemed to be a case of wrong place, wrong time.
“You sometimes do need to take that step back. You are going to get sacked at some point in management. There’s nothing surer. So it becomes about how you respond to that and what you learn from the experience.
“Ian seems to have done that brilliantly and has had a good impact with the Northern Ireland under-21s and been given this opportunity. If anything, it is a great lesson in resiliency.”