Tuesday 21 November 2017

No clear sequel to Martin and Roy show

Cash-strapped FAI face struggles on many fronts if qualifying campaign goes up in smoke

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane: ‘O’Neill and his assistant are one of the best paid management teams in European football’. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane: ‘O’Neill and his assistant are one of the best paid management teams in European football’. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

When Roy Keane was manager of Sunderland, and in one of his more dismissive moods, discussing the virtues of TV punditry he insisted he would only take on employment in the studio "if he fell on hard times".

Such was his disdain for the pundits on that particular day, he insisted he had resorted to using the mute button on his TV controls to silence the pre-match, half-time and full-time analysis of so-called experts. "I've done it once for Sky and never again," he said. "I'd rather go to the dentist."

Therefore, for those of us gathered in the media room at the Academy of Light back in 2008, for our latest delve into the world of Roy, it was something of a surprise to see him employed as a pundit by ITV for their Champions League coverage a few years later. And he was there again last week. Real Madrid's teenage sensation Marco Asensio can't play because he shaved his legs? Roy just shakes his head.

The former Ireland captain's legendary disdain for modern players like Asensio, for his fellow managers, pundits and presenters has earned him the reputation as one of the game's most acerbic critics.

And should the Republic of Ireland fail in their bid to be among the World Cup finalists in Russia next summer, assistant manager Keane and his boss, Martin O'Neill, know that ITV, BBC, RTÉ and TV3 will be lining up with offers for their services. Irish football may not be so lucky.

With a mortgage for the Aviva to service, and debt enveloping the Association, another failed World Cup campaign is not palatable. And there will be no Thierry Henry hush money from Sepp Blatter to take the blow and keep the bank happy this time.

If O'Neill and Keane could repeat their qualification for the 2016 European Championship finals and secure a place in Russia with victory over Wales - and the small matter of a play-off win - it would ease the financial pressures on the FAI.

Four years ago, FAI CEO John Delaney revealed a €50m turnover and a reduction on the debt of €11m. The latest figures show a €40m debt on the Aviva. Qualification for last summer's finals in France brought in around €10m and the same at least would be expected again. It is a significant amount to miss out on for a cash-strapped association.

O'Neill and his assistant are one of the best paid management teams in European football. Figures produced by the Portuguese magazine Football Finance for the France finals last year revealed O'Neill was the tenth best paid coach in the competition.

Although O'Neill's annual €1m salary was dwarfed by the likes of Roy Hodgson, who was paid five times that before his sacking, the Ireland manager is paid considerably more than managers who might be perceived to be on the same playing field.

According to the figures, Wales manager Chris Coleman takes home around €320,000 while Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill, who has already guaranteed a play-off place for his country prior to next month's showdown with Germany, is paid around €300,000.

Like Martin O'Neill, Scotland's Gordon Strachan agreed a new contract at the start of this World Cup campaign and like his fellow former Celtic boss, the 60-year-old faces a difficult task securing Scotland's first finals qualification since Craig Brown took Scotland to the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

Strachan is paid €250,000 a year, which is around the same as his predecessors Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein, who followed Brown and failed to take Scotland back to the world and European stages, losing out in their previous campaign to Ireland.

And like Scotland, Ireland may find themselves with little alternative if the road to Russia leads to a dead end next month. Strachan may not be the most popular man among the media and supporters but there is an appreciation among the Hampden Park blazers of the small advances the Scottish team have made with limited playing resources.

The Scottish and Irish associations have attempted to make more investment in their underage structures to address the shallow playing resources their senior managers are choosing from.

But it will be years before the senior squad starts to see the benefits of that investment and policy, if indeed new domestic under 15 to 21 leagues are the way forward at all. But Ireland are playing catch-up on the nearest associations and something had to be done.

That O'Neill and Ireland are still relying on the fitness and guile of a 35-year-old Wes Hoolahan, a former League of Ireland and occasional Championship player with Norwich City, has not gone unnoticed in Wales in the build-up.

The advances of several members of the Welsh squad puts Coleman, and his eventual successor, in a much stronger position. The Wales FA have also benefited from Swansea City establishing themselves as a Premier League club, Cardiff City's brief time in the top flight and their success at last summer's Euros.

A talismanic world superstar in Gareth Bale has not done the Welsh any harm either and the opportunity for young players to play alongside the Real Madrid midfielder may explain their ability to attract more players of promise than ever before.

Sheffield United's David Brooks was England's player of the summer in their successful Toulon tournament but he has only recently chosen to play for Wales rather than the country of his birth.

Wales are qualifying for tournaments now and are a more attractive international proposition to young men like Brooks, who is being monitored by a number of Premier League teams.

There was a time, when the wheels of the Jack Charlton bandwagon really started turning, that players with dual nationality started to look towards Ireland as a route to international football, caps and major finals.

Although O'Neill has helped to oversee a programme to snare young talent across the leagues in England, he knows this will take time and investment - and luck. Ireland need to rub shoulders with the best in the world to be attractive.

They may also need more input from former internationals to put them on the path to competitions like the Russia finals. Former goalkeeper Shay Given, a capped centurion, is entering his first season of retirement. He is one of the most qualified coaches the country has produced but perhaps it is no surprise that he currently cannot find work at the highest levels.

Championship clubs such as Hull City and Norwich City hired Russian and German managers in the summer. And they have hired Russian and German back-up staff and coaches. Doors in these clubs are closed before they have even opened.

So, during an international week is it any wonder that Given and many of his former Ireland team-mates - Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Kilbane - are to be found in the media suites rather than on the football pitch, coaching?

And is it any wonder that the FAI have little alternative to the Martin and Roy Show?

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