Sport Soccer

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Dion Fanning: Ireland looking beyond daunting German trip

Return of exiles and hunt for new boss top of the agenda, writes Dion Fanning

Darron Gibson
Darron Gibson

Dion Fanning

It was easier to have sympathy with the theory that a new Irish manager would want to avoid the game in Cologne when Joachim Löw named his German squad on Friday.

There was only one striker – Max Kruse – but that didn't make it any less daunting as it contained some of the most prized players in Europe, including Julian Draxler, the Schalke midfielder who once again demonstrated his potential last week, as well as Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and Marco Reus, who scored twice at the Aviva and is being linked with a move to Manchester City or Arsenal.

Germany need a win to guarantee qualification for the World Cup and, even with the return of Irish exiles, things could be extremely tough for Ireland. Noel King's squad selection was encouraging for those like Andy Reid and Kevin Doyle who were harshly treated by Giovanni Trapattoni and their return brings some meaning to a couple of fixtures which became pointless after the two defeats to Sweden and Austria last month. Last night King reduced the squad to 23 with Trapattoni favourite Paul Green left on standby, along with Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn.

This Friday's game in Cologne will, at least, offer the opportunity to see this wonderful German team. A new manager might not have wanted to be in charge for such a daunting trip but it would also have offered the chance to spend some time with the players.

The FAI are understood to be keen to have a new manager appointed by November. Ray Houghton confirmed yesterday that he and Ruud Dokter had begun the process of talking to candidates. Houghton said they met two candidates last week, one of whom is understood to be Hector Cuper, and they will meet more in the coming weeks, even if Dokter will spend the next eight days assisting King with the senior side. Then Dokter will return to the search for a manager. The selection process would seem to contain a couple of inbuilt hurdles for Roy Keane, who was said to be gaining support within the association last week.

Keane may feel he needs to be approached for the job rather than putting himself forward and sources close to him were expressing surprise at last week's reports that support for him was growing within the association.

The Irish Independent reported yesterday that Dokter and Houghton had been briefed that the manager must be "experienced and not bring controversy to the association".

How Dokter and Houghton are supposed to anticipate the future is hard to know but it is a brief which would make it hard to recommend Keane, even if it is even harder to imagine him being interviewed for the job by Ray Houghton.

Martin O'Neill's intentions should become clearer in the coming weeks, while Chris Hughton may be another candidate if Norwich dismiss him – as has been speculated. Hughton is said to be more concerned with dealing with the uncertain future at Norwich than taking an international job.

The association are said to want to explore the possibility that Guus Hiddink would be interested. They might discover that their timeframe doesn't fit with Hiddink's. He is thought to be waiting until after the World Cup draw in December before he decides where to work next and he is thinking of Brazil. "He has done three World Cups with three different teams so I am almost sure that he would love to do another one," his agent Cees van Nieuwenhuizen said last week.

The list of Championship managers being considered is uninspiring. Cuper remains an intriguing candidate, the most qualified if O'Neill is not appointed. He is understood to be enthusiastic about all aspects of the job, including player development. But the FAI may still hope for somebody who would capture the public's imagination.

Keane would do that but perhaps not in ways the FAI would enjoy and there appears to be little appetite for a gamble.

Things might change if the list of candidates becomes too uninspiring and Keane is somebody who should be approached no matter what.

The uncertainty may not help the players who have to play in Cologne on Friday. A new manager might have focused minds. King's squad offered encouragement for those harshly treated and, while qualification is gone, Ireland could do without humiliation as it looks to the future.

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