Givens exit ushers in a new dawn
CONSIDERING they are based out in a giant bungalow at Abbotstown, the FAI are technically unable to move anybody upstairs. In the metaphorical sense, however, that is the direction in which Don Givens is headed.
Of course, the man who stepped down as U-21 manager yesterday is based in England anyway, so his new role as Chief Scout in the UK is very convenient. If his 10-year reign in charge of Ireland's second most important team was ever going to end, then it was always likely to be that way.
There was no danger of a P45 being issued. Indeed, the various power brokers in the FAI lined up like dignitaries at a North Korean state funeral to pay tribute to Givens in the press release announcing the switch, with John Delaney, Wim Koevermans and Giovanni Trapattoni all having their say.
A list of players who were supposedly introduced to international action by Givens was also sent out in recognition of his achievements. Included were Leon Best (largely ignored by the U-21 regime), Anthony Stokes (one of many to be sent to the bold corner by Givens) and characters like James McCarthy and Darron Gibson who made it to the U-21 scene after being lured to the green jersey in their teenage days. What's that about never letting the facts get in the way?
The machinations of FAI politics is a topic for another day, though. For now, the significant news is evidence there is a desire to sweep a broom of change across an Irish underage set-up that has been too rigid for too long.
It is the time for Wim Koevermans to step forward. When he was unveiled 18 months ago, the Dutchman was welcomed as a progressive appointment, brought in with a view to freshening up the picture below the senior team.
Working with the grassroots and developing emerging talent is one side of his role. Another is overseeing all the teams below the top dogs which, naturally, is Giovanni Trapattoni's domain.
After the latest U-21 defeat to Armenia, with the loss at Tallaght adding to the woe of a pre-Christmas thrashing in Yerevan, Givens was summoned for a chat with Koevermans and CEO Delaney. The sum total of their discussions was that change was required now rather than after the three remaining games of the current campaign which are scheduled for autumn.
"The two performances against Armenia were poor and I felt it was time to assess the situation and get involved in a different role," said Givens last night, suggesting that it was his call to set the wheels in motion.
"There wasn't pressure put but, as there would be in any association, there would be questions asked and rightly so after losing those games."
Whatever your take on the catalyst, there's no doubting that Koevermans will play a central role in the recruitment of a replacement. He will go before the FAI's next Board of Management next month to outline criteria and from there a suitable salary package will have to be constructed. Naturally, that will prove a determining factor in the calibre of candidate which can be pursued.
Koevermans (49) -- a back-up member of Holland's Euro '88-winning squad -- is also understood to be contemplating a restructuring of the set-up below the U-21s. John Morling, the U-16 boss, could also assume control of the U-17 side which is currently led by Sean McCaffrey.
The latter's brief would then be redefined as U-18 and U-19 boss. While the balls are up in the air the signs are that, after initially taking time to assess the overall situation, Koevermans is ready to put his stamp on things.
Before a new U-21 supremo can be appointed, there needs to be clarity on the requirements. Finishing bottom of a qualifying group twice in succession is simply unacceptable for a nation which may be small, but has a large number of players deployed in the top two divisions across the water, as well as talented late developers on these shores.
The flip side is that it is unrealistic to demand qualification for major tournaments at U-21 level. When a major prospect like James McCarthy, still only 19, comes along, they will be bumped up to senior level.
It was the same with Robbie Keane and Damien Duff. So, a viable target is to be competitive and at least challenge at the business end of groups.
"I could have played other players who had no chance of making senior level, but could have helped us get results. I didn't see that as the way forward," said Givens, in his defence.
The alternative argument is that instilling a winning habit is for the greater long-term good; particularly when the mental strength of Irish senior sides is consistently floated as a reason for a decade-long famine with regards qualifying for the big events.
An ability to close out results on foreign soil, in difficult conditions, would stand to any young team. The other factor to consider is that Trapattoni's faith in forgotten men such as Keith Andrews proves that it can be rash to write off anybody too quickly. Andrews, who broke into the first team as a teenager with Wolves, rarely got a look in for Irish underage and U-21 sides.
Ironically, Givens retains authority in the area of player assessment, although his first task is to pull together the scouting network which the departed Liam Brady effectively assembled. Regular radio listeners will be aware that characters like Frank Stapleton and Mick Martin attend plenty of Saturday games, although not always in the right division for assessing the benefits of Irishmen on the periphery.
Hopefully, he will find his voice there, while Koevermans identifies a suitable candidate for a position which isn't just about aiding development. It also requires the understanding of it. The Givens era was marred by repeated disagreements with youngsters at an early stage of maturity that needed a slap on the wrist as opposed to a slap in the face in the newspapers.
If the new man can master the handling of egos in a reasoned fashion, then he really will be preparing them for the road ahead. A clean slate and a fresh face is the way forward from here.