Sport Soccer

Sunday 24 September 2017

Same old story needs to have a different ending

As race to become Ireland's next manager begins, David Kelly looks at merits and shortcomings of main contenders for hot seat

John Delaney and the rest of the FAI board will have plenty of food for thought in the coming weeks
John Delaney and the rest of the FAI board will have plenty of food for thought in the coming weeks
David Kelly

David Kelly

AND so the dance begins. Football's lewd and grotesque version of twerking, with John Delaney playing the role of Miley Cyrus to every conceivably employable candidate in the global game.

Expect the Sky Sports couches to bear the a**e grooves of a slew of bug-eyed candidates raising their hemlines indiscreetly in Ireland's direction – "Well, yes, Jeff, I've always thought that Paul Green was misunderstood ... "

As FAI officials busily scramble around Abbottstown, desperately trying to retrieve usable blobs of Blu Tack for the 'Smart Boy Wanted' posters, a sport even duller than watching Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni begins to unfold.

Already, the grapevine informs us, senior FAI suits are deftly and politically seeking to distance themselves from the Italian's reign.

Martin O'Neill's people have been told that their man should hold off on that inevitable Serie A offer.

All the while, the wily Italians, who have played the FAI like finely tuned violins for a long time, know that they can pocket a cool million between them unless they are overcome by sentimentality.

The FAI, who may have to give out tickets for next month's Kazakhstan game in packets of corn flakes, haven't two cents to rub together.


Needless to say, the only exotic names being tossed into the managerial race will probably be Dutch, cheap at the price and beloved of self-anointed pseudo intellectuals who spend every waking hour on the internet.

As ever, nobody will bother to look at the wider canvas and cast for a vision beyond the slavish desire for Irish football and its self-styled best fans in the world to pitch up at a major tournament and, in every sense of the word, get absolutely hammered.

There is little evidence that the fundamental health of the game here will be addressed.

There are too many divisions in Irish football – from schoolboy to League of Ireland; all are warring with the FAI, which are themselves an anachronistic outfit, governed by fear and mistrust.

An opinion expressed here before suggests that the international team, a loss leader at the best of times – Euro 2012 was hardly a money-spinner, was it? – should be down the list of priorities.

Brian Kerr as director of football and Niall Quinn as chief executive would be our choice as twin curators, men who would understand Irish culture, Irish players and Irish people.

It will never happen, of course. Too much self-interest abounds.

And so the dance begins. So too the circus.

Martin O'Neill

Odds: 2/1 favourite

Age: 61

Experience: Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa, Sunderland

Why? O'Neill was already reportedly approached earlier this year following his sacking by Sunderland; he was also a previous candidate but family circumstances forced him out of the running.

Passionate, committed and averse to suffering fools, O'Neill is a renowned man-manager and he earned a reputation for improving clubs and leaving them in much better shape than when he arrived. Also first to discover James McClean.

Why not? Didn't leave Sunderland in a better position than when he had arrived and it is questionable whether his messianic qualities retain real or mythical status.

Currently unemployed but then there's a reason for that, isn't there? And his playing style? Think disciple of Trapattoni.

Mick McCarthy

Odds: 7/1

Age: 54

Experience: Millwall, Ireland, Sunderland, Wolves, Ipswich.

Why? Been there and worn the T-shirt as the last manager to qualify Ireland for a World Cup, and feels he has unfinished business. Remains extremely popular with many of the current players and developed a style, after lengthy teething problems, that was relatively pleasing on the eye.

Has an escape clause – albeit one that may have prompted a no-fee release had it been triggered during the summer – and debatable how committed he is to dragging another sleeping giant into the Premier League.

Why not? After being showered with boos from the Lansdowne Road audience – although who hasn't? – difficult to understand why he would want to return to the international arena. Is doing well at Ipswich and a return to the Premier League is surely top of his agenda.

Oh, and all that Saipan stuff. Awkward for fickle, prickly sensitive Irish types.

Roy Keane

Odds: 10/1

Age: 42

Experience: Sunderland, Ipswich

Why? Has already told the FAI that he is interested in the job. Understands Irish football and the need to create a coherent structure from bottom to top – and not top to bottom as many currently believe.

Clearly passionate, would need to locate a decent coaching structure and not the obsequious types that predominantly surrounded him during a brief managerial career that has had many promising moments.

Why not? When his inoffensive punditry – recall his views on Nani's red card in last season's Champions League – can cause a national debate, then it is hardly surprising to see the amount of baggage his appointment can bring.

Irish football suffers enough from an inability to be searingly self-critical and Keane's presence would be too much for too many inadequate figures in the game here. Oh, and all that Saipan stuff. Still awkward.

Chris Hughton

Odds: 12/1

Age: 54

Experience: Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich.

Why? Another who, from his time involved with Kerr and the late, great Noel O'Reilly, appreciates the Irish football culture and would not be involved with the job for the sake of either his ego or his wallet.

His management career does not scream headlines. But, regardless of the tools at his disposal, he invests his teams with faith, trust and an innate sense that they can over-achieve once they are provided with the support.

Why not? A significant swathe of the current squad, who thumbed their noses at pre-match analysis and hospital visits, would not be enamoured by a remnant of the Brian Kerr era. And, although he doesn't threaten the pigeons with his approach to football, he does tend towards the archly conservative in approach.

Brian McDermott

Odds: 16/1

Age: 52

Experience: Slough, Woking, Reading, Leeds.

Why? Proponents of the new wave get excitable when this guy's name is mentioned. Despite making a "mistake" when opting to align himself with England at a young age, has gone to great lengths to re-establish his Irish identity.

His playing style is aesthetically pleasing enough too and, unlike some other lazily propagated candidates like David O'Leary or O'Neill, he is a manager on the rise, rather than decline.

Why not? Inexperience may be his greatest stumbling block and one wonders whether the self-styled greatest football fans in the world would be patient enough to persist with a manager who is likely to mention the dreaded 'project' word should he get the gig. Has already been seen sidling up to leading figures in Irish football and an ingratiating manner like that is a bit of a turn-off.

Marco Tardelli

Odds: 20/1 Age: 58

Experience: Inter, Bari, Egypt

Why? Trap's No 2 will inevitably become a candidate because the boisterous sidekick will play up his claims enough to ensure that he becomes one.

Why not? Being inextricably linked with a management ticket that was chased out of town is hardly the best negotiating position.

Rene Meulensteen

Odds: n/a Age: 49

Experience: Brondy, Anzhi

Why? An easy default position for the FAI is to go Dutch – and maybe go Dutch with Denis O'Brien to pay this salary too. After all, the current director of development is a Dutch man.

If this guy – a former Manchester United assistant – can improve Cristiano Ronaldo, then surely he can work some magic on Conor Sammon? Then again, maybe not.

Why not? Unproven pedigree. And why should Irish football swoon at somebody just because faux intellectual soccer types are his cheerleaders?

Nobody had heard of the current FAI high-performance director before he got the job. Funnily enough, they still haven't.

Pat Fenlon

Odds: 25/1 Age: 44

Experience: Shelbourne, Derry, Bohemians, Hibernian

Why? The former Shelbourne and Bohemians manager is an Irish football coach who came through the system and the Dubliner is also somebody who has shown that he allows his players to express themselves.

Why not? After the shameful manner in which Brian Kerr was treated, Irish football will never be mature enough to propagate one of their own. Fenlon has also struggled with a step up in class, despite occasional flurries with Hibernian in Scotland.

Terry Venables

Odds: 25/1 Age: 70

Why? Fulfills the criteria of being a personality. Purveyor of the beautiful game and architect of England's last meaningful tournament achievement in Euro '96.

Why not? Filed alongside Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp and a vast host of usual suspects – including Graeme Souness and Paul Jewell – who will be interested in the gig only for what it has to offer them and not the other way around.

Irish Independent

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