Lawrie Sanchez has stepped down as manager of Northern Ireland after being asked to take charge of English Premiership side Fulham FC on a permanent basis.
Sanchez has accepted an "indefinite, rolling contract" with the London club who guaranteed their Premiership survival last Saturday with a 1-0 home victory against Liverpool FC. Sanchez joined Fulham on temporary terms on 10 April following the dismissal of Chris Coleman, and though they have won just one of four games since, chairman Mohamed Al Fayed has been impressed by the 47-year-old's "steely determination and focus".
Northern Ireland success
The news is a blow to Northern Ireland whose fortunes have improved dramatically since Sanchez took the helm in January 2004. Sanchez, a former Northern Ireland international, gave a taste of things to come when his team beat England 1-0 in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying. He has carried that form into the UEFA EURO 2008™ campaign, with Northern Ireland defeating Spain and Sweden to sit top of Group F after six matches.
Irish Football Association president Jim Boyce is disappointed Sanchez could not continue to combine the two managerial roles. "I have always had the best of relationships with Lawrie and I would applaud him for what he has done for Northern Ireland football," Boyce said. "He did say he had tried his hardest to ensure this would not happen, but it was made clear to him when he was offered the Fulham job full time that he would have to immediately resign as manager of Northern Ireland."
For Sanchez, meanwhile, there are mixed emotions. "I am delighted to be given this opportunity to manage Fulham, and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead," he said. "Obviously it is disappointing not to be taking Northern Ireland to the [UEFA] European Championship but I understand the importance of focusing solely on the task ahead." The Londoner made his name as a midfielder with Wimbledon FC, scoring the goal that took the unfashionable club into the English top flight before hitting the winner in the 1988 FA Cup final against Liverpool FC. Former Northern Ireland players Jim Magilton, currently managing Ipswich Town FC, and Nigel Worthington, the caretaker boss at Leicester City FC, will be among the contenders to succeed Sanchez. Northern Ireland's next qualifier is at home to Liechtenstein on 22 August.
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