Daniel McDonnell: '19 for 2019: From McCarthy to Messi, this year will demand answers to searching questions'
With so many managers, players and clubs – at home and abroad – facing unpredictable spells of transition, the next 12 months in the beautiful game promise to be intriguing for all sorts of reasons.
1. Mick McCarthy
The returning Ireland manager already knows who his replacement is which is a strange state of affairs. However, he was desperate to return to the job and knows it can be the platform towards the extension of his career in the dugout. Ireland face a difficult European qualifying group and the unusual situation whereby it’s all played out in the space of a calendar year. Switzerland and Denmark are formidable opponents, but a top-two finish is not beyond the squad if the manager can draw the best from them.
2. Stephen Kenny
There will be extra scrutiny on the performances of the Ireland U-21 side because Kenny is the next man in the door at senior level. Ireland’s campaign has been front-loaded because he feels it will give them the best chance of qualification and it will also show if the former Dundalk manager’s skills can translate to a slightly different arena. Ireland are fourth seeds in a group where there’s just one automatic qualifying place available so the odds are stacked against them. Results will be a bonus but it’s the performances that will be of real interest.
3. Matt Doherty
The Wolves full-back caused a bit of a stir by speaking out about the weaknesses of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane on the day that their departure from the Ireland job was confirmed. He answered honestly but he infuriated the managerial duo who believe the Dubliner had ideas above his station. Doherty has been excellent for Wolves this year but he needs to bring that form to the international stage and show that he was underutilised under the old regime.
4. Seamus Coleman
A combination of Doherty’s emergence and a few difficult days in the Everton jersey have put a small bit of pressure on Coleman at the start of 2019. He should remain an integral member of the Ireland side but McCarthy will have to mull over how to fit Coleman and Doherty into the same team. The Donegal man is still trying to regain his best form as the one-year anniversary of his return from injury beckons.
5. Vinny Perth
Kenny’s departure from Dundalk has left big shoes to fill and Perth (below) will be the main voice in the dressing-room in a new management structure. The double winners will be expected to rule the roost at home again with their leading lights all retained but Dundalk’s US owners will really be looking for progress in Europe. They will be seeded in the first qualifying round of the Champions League but that is no guarantee of a soft draw. Perth will have to hit the ground running.
6. Jack Byrne
The most interesting transfer in the League of Ireland off-season has been Byrne’s switch to Shamrock Rovers, a club that has a point to prove in 2019 as they seek to become credible challengers to Dundalk. If Byrne hits the ground running, he will be a major asset. At 22 he still has plenty of time to turn his career around but he needs to follow the example of Keith Fahey, Richie Towell, Seani Maguire and other players who used the League of Ireland as a stepping stone back towards delivering on their potential.
7. Denise O’Sullivan
The ‘Guardian’ newspaper recently listed their top 100 female footballers in the world and O’Sullivan was possibly unlucky to miss out given that a number of American-based players were included – the Cork woman was voted MVP by her North Carolina Courage team-mates after her contribution to their NWSL success. The 24-year-old also excelled in a recent loan spell in Australia that was organised because the seasons do not overlap.
8. Colin Bell
The Irish attempt to reach the World Cup ultimately fell short and it was always likely to given the difficulty of their group. Still, there was a positivity around the direction of the women’s side that had been lacking in previous campaigns. Crowds flocked to Tallaght Stadium for that reason. The campaign to reach the 2021 Euros starts in September and there will more be expectation for Bell to deal with now.
9. Martin O’Neill
The ex-Ireland manager has spoken of a desire to return to the club sphere and was clearly annoyed by the suggestion that he was out of touch with the modern game. In England, there was still quite a positive view of his Irish tenure so it’s likely that he will be approached at some stage in 2019, although it remains to be seen if he is given a Premier League opportunity. The 66-year-old will be out to silence his Irish critics if he does make a comeback.
10. Patrick Hoban
The Galwegian was in prolific form for Dundalk and felt he might have received an international call-up on account of his 29-goal league campaign. That didn’t come his way. Hoban still has ambitions of succeeding across the water after two deeply frustrating stints overseas and is in the final year of his Dundalk contract. The 27-year-old’s performances in 2019 will shape the rest of his career and also influence the direction of the League of Ireland title.
11. James McCarthy
He turns 29 in December but has effectively missed out on what should have been the prime years of his career due to persistent injuries. The midfielder will have to show new managers with both club and country that he still has something to offer. McCarthy played a lot of football in his teens through to his early 20s and the fear is that it’s caught up with him. However, he was actually impressing under Sam Allardyce before he suffered the heartbreak of a broken leg.
12. John Caulfield
Cork City returned to the role of bridesmaid to Dundalk in 2018, with the Leesiders finishing runners-up in the two competitions they had claimed in 2017. They also struggled badly in Europe where questions were raised about their ability to produce performances at that level. Caulfield will be remembered as a successful Cork manager whatever happens, yet it feels as though his stay at Turner’s Cross is approaching a crucial phase. His winter recruitment has failed to inspire, with a cut to the budget a hindrance, and there were signs of impatience from the natives last term. A good start to the season is imperative.
13. Shane Long
McCarthy will be the fourth international manager that Long has worked under. No Irish boss has viewed the Southampton player as an automatic starter and his club position is equally uncertain. He turns 32 later this month and is inching perilously close to being described as a veteran. However, there’s still a niggling feeling that he hasn’t really evolved into the player that he should be. Time is running out.
14. Jim McGuinness
Eyebrows were raised after the former Donegal Gaelic football boss switched codes to pursue a career in soccer. He progressed in backroom positions to the point where he received an assistant manager’s job in China and he’s now going out on his own in the USA with Charlotte Independence. There will not be a huge amount of pressure on McGuinness locally as they are a small enough operation but he will be judged from afar with a view to his longer-term prospects. If a first job goes badly, stats indicate that the majority of prospective bosses don’t receive a second chance.
15. Jose Mourinho
From a global football perspective, it will be fascinating to see where Mourinho pitches up next following his damaging spell with Manchester United. The power of his profile means he will definitely still have big clubs knocking on the door, although it would be a surprise if a major English role came his way. Similar to O’Neill, Mourinho’s place in the modern game is in question. He has lost some of the old charisma and looked to be permanently at war with the world during his stay at Old Trafford. He faces a battle to rebuild his reputation.
16. Jurgen Klopp
Mourinho liked to remind people of his trophy count and it’s a simple fact that Klopp’s bottom-line record is modest by comparison. His status is very secure at Liverpool, yet he remains a serial runner-up and that’s something that really needs to change this season as they have put themselves in a very strong position. He needs to deliver silverware to really justify his status among fans.
17. Paul Pogba
The World Cup winner has yet to come back down to earth from scaling that summit and until recently had clearly lacked focus at Old Trafford where his relationship with Mourinho went way beyond the point of no return early in this campaign. The Frenchman is the most talented player at the club and needs to view the change in the dugout as the opportunity to live up to his billing. He’s made a positive start under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but must prove he can be consistently influential for the remainder of the season.
18. Brendan Rodgers
It’s a big year for the Celtic supremo who has endured plenty of frustration in recent months. They did manage to scrape through their Europa League group but their performances were mediocre and they’ve found the local scene a bit more challenging as well. Rodgers struggled to disguise his unhappiness during the summer when Celtic were found wanting in the race to the Champions League group stages. It indicated that he is willing to look further afield if he does not receive the backing to strengthen his dressing-room.
19. Lionel Messi
It’s remarkable really. Messi keeps doing his thing year after year but always seems to find the hunger to keep producing. His exclusion from serious Ballon d’Or consideration should provide ample motivation for the magician to continue delivering the goods for Barcelona. He has finished the calendar year in fine form and remains the top player in the world by some distance. Chances are he will be back on the podium next December.