Richard Dunne: Why Stephen Kenny is a great candidate to be the next Ireland manager
I know there is no vacancy at the moment as Martin O’Neill is the Ireland manager.
But if and when the job is available, I see no reason why Stephen Kenny should not be in consideration at least, no matter who gets the job.
It would be a big change from the way the FAI have done things, having had major figures like Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin in the last 10 years, but given where the Irish team are right now, someone like Stephen could do a very, very good job there. He has something about him that Irish football can’t afford to overlook.
If it comes to a situation where Ireland are looking for a new manager, you have to assess anyone who has the right credentials and the record Stephen has had, not just in winning trophies but the run in the Europa League, he should be there. Kenny and Dundalk really impressed me in that European run: they were up against clubs with much bigger budgets but when you watched Dundalk play, you didn’t see that gulf, they were never a million miles away from the likes of Zenit. And they tried to play.
They played a way they knew, they had a game plan, the players stuck to that, and that’s such a help. Look at Wales at the Euros, they didn’t have that great run because they had a great manager, it was because they had a way of playing which the players believed in.
They had good players but you still wouldn’t have backed them to get that far, yet they did as the manager had a plan and a structure, their manager gave them the confidence to play, and when you do that, there’s no limits to what the players can achieve.
People ask if someone like Stephen Kenny could command the respect of the Ireland players, but not many players in that Ireland dressing room have won medals, compared to the trophies that Stephen has won. It’s not about a ‘Premier League background’, it’s about a mentality of putting together a team that can win things.
So I can’t see why Stephen can’t be in the running, at least. He has a knack of producing winning sides, it’s not like he took over Dundalk when they were doing well, they were really struggling when he went in there and he built something. People may not have expected much but he just ran with it, put in his own ideas and made a success of it and that’s almost where Ireland are now.
People in Ireland are not expecting much from the senior team but give a manager a free run at things, a manager who has the right ideas and a plan, and you could be pleasantly surprised.
The argument will be made about Brian Kerr’s time as manager with the Ireland senior team. And it would be different with Stephen Kenny as manager.
It was always going to be difficult for Brian. A lot the squad had worked with Brian at underage level, so players maybe still looked on him as their U18 coach. The other players knew about his success with the Irish youth teams but knew nothing about his success with St Pat’s so it was difficult for Brian. Stephen wouldn’t have that issue. Any player working with him would know of his track record with Dundalk, that he has won things. Brian came in with a fairly strong idea of what he wanted, how he wanted to play and for various reasons, the players didn’t really buy into it. Brian did well and was harshly treated by the FAI, he should have got another spell.
If Stephen came in with Ireland, some players would have the same doubts as then, think that they are better players than having a so-called League of Ireland manager in charge of them. But if the plan and the ideas are strong enough, if Stephen as a coach could instill his belief into the players, the players would buy straight into it.
It’s about getting off to a good start and if that happens, everything else is forgotten about, all of a sudden it’s not about Stephen Kenny the ex-Dundalk manager, it’s Stephen Kenny, Ireland manager. Players would respect that.
There is no one in that squad who is irreplaceable so if there was a player who was not buying into it, you move on to another player who is also in the Championship, we don’t have a load of players at the top end of the Premier League who Stephen Kenny would have to win over, he can almost go in there, pick his squad and if people are not happy, move them on.
It’s not about what’s gone on before, disagreements and fighting with managers (or assistant managers), it’s a case of ‘this is the way we are going’, you just identify the plans. How do we play away from home? Do we try to win every game? You have a plan, you have the guts to stick to that plan, and the players will go along with it.
Players can make up their mind on a manager after one team talk. It’s up to the manager to win the players over, I had situations in my career where players just said ‘oh, he’s shit’ before the manager even had a chance. That’s the nature of the game, players work off history, not facts.
Whoever the next Ireland manager is, he will have to win players over. He has to hit the ground running. And there’s no reason why Stephen Kenny can’t do that.