Monday 22 July 2019

Comment: Martin O'Neill should have to re-apply for job after managerial mess

Current boss might still be the best man for the job - but everyone now needs to know where they stand

Martin O'Neill should be re-interviewed for the Ireland job
Martin O'Neill should be re-interviewed for the Ireland job
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In many industries, even when things are going well, somebody, somewhere is planning for the worst-case scenario and making sure that they have the best people to do the job required. In football, that means the top players or managers leaving and, at all times, there needs to be a back-up plan.

But if the last week has shown us anything, it's that Martin O'Neill is not just the FAI's first choice to be Ireland manager, he's their second and third as well.

The practice of re-interviewing for a job that you already have might be slightly humiliating but, in theory, it provides a chance for all sides to assess where they stand, where they want to get to and the process to put that in place.

If they had performed well, the incumbent has a huge advantage given their knowledge of what is required to do the job well but, equally, it gives the chance for everybody to put their cards on the table rather than muddle along presuming everything will work out rather than making it do so.

Until last night, unless they were just planning to ring Mick McCarthy, the FAI were facing the prospect of scouring the football world to find a replacement for O'Neill, making sure he was the best man available to do the job and having that exact conversation about plans for the future.

The FAI must have thought of alternatives and these should be weighed up against what they and O'Neill want for the future. And the bonus of the verbal contract is that it wouldn't cost them anything to do it.

If every available candidate was interviewed for the Ireland job, O'Neill may still be the best man for the role but at least both the FAI and the manager could make the argument that they were starting afresh because after the mess of the past week, it's going to be hard for anybody to clean the slate.

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This is new territory for the FAI because, in every previous manager of the modern era, it's the association that has made the call about when their term ends - either by accepting a resignation, not renewing their existing contract or sacking them.

Nobody has left them for the type of offer which turned O'Neill's head. By agreeing to a verbal contract, and announcing that O'Neill had decided to stay on, the FAI put themselves in a vulnerable position and, just because they were lucky on the previous occasion, it didn't mean there were any guarantees this time around.

It's one thing to have a verbal contract with an experienced manager during the summer and early part of the season when optimism abounds in the Premier League.

This week has taught the FAI that it's quite another not to have their man tied down in the winter months when chairmen get sweaty backsides and itchy trigger fingers. In theory, nothing has changed from this Monday compared to last Monday but, as Brian Kerr put it in these pages on Saturday, everyone has been damaged just to get back to the point where they started.

Even if O'Neill does sign a two-year contract with, for example, a £2milion release clause, that figure is chicken feed to most of the clubs who might want him to take over.

If West Brom, Brighton or Southampton panic in three weeks' time and sack their managers, there's nothing to stop this whole process happening again which makes it imperative that somebody somewhere has a succession plan which stretches beyond making it to the next tournament.

Because even though Ireland don't face any meaningful games for a year, it won't take long for the tide of public opinion to turn irrecoverably against O'Neill over a couple of friendly defeats because, regardless of how it is spun, Ireland currently feels like a fall-back option even if every manager, player or employee in any sector is well within their rights to see if the grass is greener.

In his two campaigns, there isn't a great deal more that O'Neill could have done in terms of results but with the stench of the 5-1 defeat to Denmark still lingering, and his bizarre half-time substitutions in that match followed by the events of the past week, the credit that he had in the bank is eroding fast.

Imperative And in any review process, which should already have taken place as a matter of course, it's imperative for the FAI to establish whether they feel that was a one-off or a vision of the future - and if it's the latter, they have to find out what O'Neill is going to do about it.

In 2002, thousands came to Phoenix Park to welcome Ireland's team home from the World Cup, but many of those who were singing "I'm Mick McCarthy's baby" in the July sunshine were calling for his head a few months later when things turned colder.

In the real world, O'Neill doesn't have anything to apologise for but, even if he doesn't mean it, a degree of contrition to appease disgruntled fans and a thorough review with his employers about what both want in the coming campaigns is essential to avoid the scenario which John Toshack faced as Wales manager when he resigned because it was "better for everybody concerned".

The lack of despair among the public at O'Neill's potential departure was startling given that he almost took the team to two consecutive major tournments. The job he now faces to get everyone back onside might just be even an even bigger challenge.

Irish Independent

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