Monday 9 December 2019

Here's why the FAI could seriously regret handing Martin O'Neill a new contract before Euro 2016

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Will the FAI ever learn their lesson?

Yesterday's announcement of a new contract for Martin O'Neill and his coaching staff puts to rest the rumours of the Ireland boss jumping back into club management for now, but it remains to be seen whether the FAI made the right decision by sanctioning the deal or whether they have jumped the gun prematurely once again.

On the one hand, you can understand why John Delaney would want to sign O'Neill, Roy Keane and company to a new contract now. There is a World Cup qualification campaign starting in September and had Ireland's management team entered the tournament without their future resolved, club teams could easily have snapped them up in the event of a successful showing.

The deal means that the FAI won't have to scramble to find a new coaching ticket on short notice after the European Championships.

Read more: Car chases, secret meetings and Fergie's phone calls: How Roy Keane's Ireland return was secured

However, history shows us that perhaps it would have been prudent for the association to hold off on prolonging O'Neill's stay, despite the Northern Irishman achieving major tournament qualification.

The previous two managers who brought Ireland to summer competitions also signed improved deals on the eve of their tournament's - and on both occasions their tenures unravelled soon after.

Mick McCarthy was rewarded with a new deal shortly after securing a place at the 2002 World Cup. It seemed a smart move at the time given that McCarthy had helped grow a young team into a strong outfit with Roy Keane at its centre.

However, then Saipan happened and although Ireland performed admirably at the World Cup in making the last 16, McCarthy faced the prospect of qualifying for Euro 2004 without the Manchester United star, who vowed never to play for the manager again.

Read more: Roy Keane: You are not therapists to me

The former Ireland captain only lasted two games into qualifying - both losses - before resigning.

Similarly, Giovanni Trapattoni's reign was extended for two years after the team booked their place at Euro 2012. That move seemed less solid than McCarthy's extension, with Trap's outfit only making the European Championships thanks to a fortuitous playoff draw that saw them paired with Estonia.

The mood around the team quickly soured after Ireland lost all three of their games at Euro 2012, and although Trap stayed for the majority of the subsequent World Cup qualifying campaign, results were mediocre and the team missed a trick in not moving on from the Italian sooner.

Football isn't the only sport guilty of prematurely rewarding coaches. Ireland rugby boss Eddie O'Sullivan was handed a four year contract just before the team embarked on their disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign, which saw the team exit at the pool stage after losses against France and Argentina while struggling to overcome minnows Georgia.

Which brings us back to O'Neill. You could certainly argue that he and his staff deserve the extension. Sure, Ireland were fortunate that Georgia beat Scotland to reignite the team's qualification charge, but O'Neill's side then booked their place on merit after wins over Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, performances and results haven't be so stellar as to automatically warrant a new deal, and given that O'Neill and Keane haven't been inundated with offers from top teams, the FAI should have adopted a wait and see approach - particularly given their recent history in this regard.

If Ireland do exit Euro 2016 in a similar fashion to four years ago, then John Delaney and his colleagues may once again regret pulling the trigger on a new deal without waiting to see the end product from the existing one.


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