Wednesday 18 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'It's all about number one'

Robbie Keane may be sold as part of a 'dream team' but, from Robson to Tardelli to Keane, the buck always stops with the manager, writes Daniel McDonnell

Robbie Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

There's a catchiness about the idea of a 'team', which now seems to have become a staple part of the hunt for a new Ireland boss.

'Stan' and Bobby. 'Trap' and Tardelli. O'Neill and Keane. And now we have another twist on the theme, and the prospect of Robbie Keane working with his old manager Mick McCarthy.

The caveat here is that there is no suggestion Keane would be McCarthy's only back-up.

It's believed that Ireland's record goalscorer is being lined up for a role as part of a broader management team. There would be other coaches in the picture too.

But the general principle is the same. Damien Duff was responding to a direct question, yet he suggested that his good pal and former team-mate would bring the spark back to the dressing-room.

These factors do have an impact on morale but the real issue is if they will help Ireland win football matches.

Roy Keane's personality is so powerful that he was used as a commercial tool when it suited the FAI.

Indeed, it's ludicrous that his pay packet was bigger than some of the managers whose sides were picking Ireland apart.


However, all of the anecdotal tales coming out of the dressing-room suggest that it was Martin O'Neill who made the big calls. He laid down the rules. Keane was surprisingly quiet at key moments.

There's another debate about what Keane's presence did for the mood in the camp when he was in combustible mode, and that remains a significant part of the post-mortem, but there was still a limit to his influence in terms of personnel choices and tactical calls.

That can be extended to the other examples mentioned above.

Marco Tardelli occasionally made noises that he might have liked Player A or Player B but it was abundantly clear that Giovanni Trapattoni was the decision maker.

Liam Brady was missed when he left, yet the main reason for that was the communication of the manager's message.

Bobby Robson's position was complicated by illness and one of Steve Staunton's unfortunate mistakes in the aftermath of the 5-2 loss in Cyprus, that bottomed his regime before it had really kicked off, was to admit that a chat with Robson had actually led him to change his mind about the make-up of his defence. That was perceived as weakness or inexperience.

So that's why there is an important distinction to be made here. Good staff are very important to a manager because they make his job easier, but he's the one in the firing line.

And for young staff such as Robbie Keane (38), it's an opportunity for them to learn the ropes with a view to graduating to full responsibility eventually. There's definitely a benefit in giving our elite stars that leg-up.

However, it's questionable to argue that the running mates push the case for one candidate over the other.

Part of the job for the appointee is to then bring in the right coach to suit their set-up.

Keith Andrews mentioned the right names yesterday as he touched on Steven Reid and Lee Carsley, with the latter well regarded in the English set-up - so much so that he might well be out of the FAI's reach.

"We shouldn't be going with a former player because of the name, we should be going because of their coaching experience," said Andrews, on his show on

Ultimately, though, that choice should be made by the selected manager as they have to stand over everything. The buck really does stop with them.

And that is relevant to Ireland's present situation.

McCarthy is the front-runner to replace O'Neill, and references to a link-up with a former protege - and popular household name in Ireland - could be construed as giving a freshness to an announcement that the old boss is coming back and his long-serving sidekick Terry Connor is coming on board with him. That's not box-office.

But it's doubtful that the input of Keane is suddenly going to change the philosophy and approach of an extremely experienced gaffer who turns 60 in February and has basically been active in the dugout since 1992.

We know that the Barnsley native is his own man. We know what the personality of a McCarthy team is.

There will be structure and organisation and while his Irish side did play some very good football in patches, his detractors at his various clubs have decried the approach over a protracted period of time.

The criticism was not universal and Wolves and Ipswich suffered after he left.

He is also a well-travelled man who knows the terrain of the international sphere and the challenges and the pressures of the Irish beat.

His appointment makes sense in the context of the quick-fix element, the need to turn things around in a limited time-frame ahead of competitive matches in March and a crunch year where big fixtures are going to come thick and fast by the standards of the international scene.

Various other names are starting to do the rounds with Carlos Queiroz definitely interested and Jurgen Klinsmann's name entering the mix.

But it's understood that the main alternative to McCarthy is Stephen Kenny. There are two main arguments that form the basis of the case against Kenny.

One is that players will be sceptical towards him because of his League of Ireland background; an understandable point to make but that's not the chat on the grapevine.

The other is that he's a long-term project who requires a bit of time - and it will be a struggle for him to get his methods across in what might just be three days of training before an opening qualifier.


That's a valid concern. And in some quarters, it has been suggested that Kenny could go in and work under another manager - the FAI had earmarked him as their preferred choice as U-21 boss - but that is not a runner because the Dundalk manager is a front-of-house man. He's not a number two, and would never view himself in that way.

He has strength in his convictions, similar to McCarthy you might say, except he would have a different mindset when it comes to football.

McCarthy is an old-school figure who is well versed in the cut and thrust of the English game.

Kenny believes that Irish football needs to snap out of that reliance on what happens over the water.

Last month, he said that Eddie Howe was the only top English coach that sprung to mind when he considered the merits of their league system.

This is the persuasive part of the Kenny angle. He is a decision maker, with strong beliefs on how the game should be played.

The choice between McCarthy and Kenny is not about who they bring with them.

It's really about who is the better manager at this point in time. This gig depends on the main act, not the supporting artists.

Irish Independent

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