Saturday 24 March 2018

Daniel McDonnell: No time for spin when O'Neill and FAI explain themselves

Martin O’Neill and John Delaney Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill and John Delaney Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was December 2008 when Alex Ferguson dismissed reports that Real Madrid would be signing Cristiano Ronaldo the following summer by declaring that "he wouldn't sell a virus to that mob".

Seven months later, however, Madrid purchased a star and not SARS. Carlos Queiroz, Ferguson's former assistant, later told a story about an agreement made in the summer of 2008 that cleared the path for a delayed sale. Management were part of the discussion.

That's all part of the spinning business. Ferguson had his reasons to fit the news agenda of that day.

At various points in the sagas involving Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez, it has suited Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger to say that the players would be sticking around when they probably had a good idea of how things were going to pan out.

And there was never any way that Stoke City's announcement of Paul Lambert's appointment would be greeted by the confession that he is their version of the hastily-purchased Christmas present picked up at a garage late on December 24.

They have tried to put the line out there that Lambert was always on their list and is the best man for the job, which means that trips to Barcelona to meet Espanyol officials and two rounds of discussions with Martin O'Neill about the post were all just a ruse so they could snaffle an unemployed boss who was available when Mark Hughes got the boot.


But this is all part of the charade sometimes. We accept what the various protagonists have to say, place them out there as the quotes on the record, and presume that the public can draw their own conclusions.

There are occasions where honesty is the best policy, though, and it may well be that a forthright approach is the best way for O'Neill to mend bridges whenever he speaks on the saga that has affected his standing as Ireland manager.

The public do not appear to have been won over by the argument that honouring the verbal agreement he made with the FAI in October is the reason he said no to Stoke.

If that deal was unbreakable then, why speak with Stoke or any other prospective employer.

This is where the issue of a clause comes back into play. The FAI will always say that they will not speak about the contractual business of any employee. And O'Neill would be in favour of that too.

Professional football has arguably become even more guarded about details. Think of Burnley announcing that they had broken their transfer record to sign Jeff Hendrick, yet in the next sentence explaining that they had purchased the Dubliner for an "undisclosed fee".

The absence of that figure dented the impact of the club-record angle.

Given that English football is experimenting with VAR and other advances, one wonders if taking the lead from America will encourage clubs and associations in this part of the world to mimic the MLS by releasing the full salary of every player in the league.

With the natural consequence likely to be a broader debate on wage inflation - or anarchy in dressing-rooms where players may not realise just how much cash inferior colleagues are collecting - it will be a warm Tuesday in Stoke before that idea is embraced.

It's just not part of the culture to openly go down that route. Instead, the juicy details slip out in another way, or simply never get out there.

In September 2016, O'Neill was asked if there was an exit clause in the new contract that was belatedly signed three months after the original announcement of the agreement.

"Listen, I'm not going into the ins and outs of it," he said, when a break option was directly raised.

"I really don't think that's important. I'm not in the habit of disappearing.

"I was speaking to two of the players one evening and saying in terms of looking at my own managerial record and in terms of longevity at particular clubs - Sunderland apart - I think that you would realise that I am not one for just downing tools at any given minute."

He was asked if the uncertainty over his future would need to be discussed with his squad.

"What would I need to reassure players for?", he replied. "Do you know what players want to know? They want to know two things. They want to know if they are playing and if they are getting paid. They like the manager if they are playing and they are not that fond of him if they don't."

In the past week, Stephen Hunt pretty much supported that view on the pages of the 'Sunday Independent'. Richard Dunne wasn't so sure, arguing that players start to perceive a manager differently if there is a feeling he's not around for the long haul.

With the spirit within the Irish dressing-room often cited as an attribute that gives them a quality which other national teams lack, it still seems important that any doubts about direction be taken from the agenda. O'Neill might have to address that in March.

But it would be a significant statement if there was full disclosure on the contract that the FAI hope to have signed ahead of next week's trip to Switzerland.

Is there a break clause? If so, why? Were issues over the finer points of the terms and conditions a reason for the hold-up in 2016?

Are they a factor this time around? Are the FAI happy with that? Is there a compensation figure they would accept to lose a manager they have tasked with kicking off a period of transition?

In football, it's better to be talked about than not and O'Neill's stock across the water does not appear to have been damaged by the Danish fall-out. The popular line there is that he is doing as well with the available resources as any other manager would.

With his position in Ireland far more delicate, there will be a need to go into the ins and outs of what has happened since October.

Reports that his mood towards the post was affected by post-Danish criticism need to be teased out, too.

FAI CEO John Delaney is due to speak this week and the association's feelings on the loose arrangement with the 65-year-old have to be explored.

This situation is not irretrievable.But palatable explanations are required. Otherwise, the Stoke story will become a virus that this regime will struggle to shake-off.

Irish Independent

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