Monday 19 March 2018

Stephen Hunt: Martin might well have lost the Irish fans already

Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Martin O'Neill and the FAI will want to carry on as if nothing has happened this week but it would not surprise me if the Republic of Ireland have a new manager very shortly.

As long as that contract is unsigned and jobs become available, Martin O'Neill is available. He is clearly still a very attractive package to some clubs and I don't think he has hidden his desire to have another crack at club management, which could be his last one. It could still happen.

Daily management might suit Martin because he would get to deal with players' emotions and, from what I have heard, he is very good at that. And he might prefer that day-to-day involvement with his players as opposed to the sporadic time he has with the Ireland squad.

He may not have applied for the Stoke job, and simply taken a call, but it would be the perfect job for him; a Premier League club which has had two managers in 12 years and a local family board with a reputation for supporting Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. He would be secure even if he is not successful.

The problem with Martin speaking to Stoke City, or any other club for that matter, is that it will have also alerted his FAI employers that there are alternatives out there. And they might just like the look of them.

As soon as the news leaked that he had spoken to Stoke - and there is no suggestion that it came from an agent, FAI headquarters, or anywhere other than Stoke - the representatives of managers and coaches throughout Europe will have been on the phone to John Delaney.

And if they didn't look at those alternatives, just in case Martin does go, they would not be doing their jobs properly and would be shooting themselves in the foot. Now they have seen the alternatives, they might be interested. That was always going to be the risk for Martin, once the news leaked.

This was the risk the FAI took when they failed to get Martin's signature on his new verbally-agreed deal. He is always linked with jobs and, of course, he was going to take a call for a Premier League position like Stoke City. No-one can blame him for that. If the FAI still want him, why is it still not signed?

Can he just walk back into the job in Dublin and expect the media and the supporters to act as if nothing has happened? I have said all along that he has earned the right to decide if he wants to stay on or move on to another job. Strictly from a business point of view, he qualified for the Euros and made money for Irish football and everything within the structure. He kept people in jobs.

If he stays, he might be able to convince the FAI and the players that he is still fully committed to the cause, but winning the hearts and minds of the supporters might be more difficult. Everyone knows this happens in modern-day football. Your head gets turned whether you are doing well or playing badly. But this is international football. This is Ireland and Irish fans are bound to believe there should be some pride in the job.

The players won't be bothered by what's gone on. Football is a selfish game at times like this and you just deal with it and get on with it. You're only interested in the manager and how it affects you. If Martin is the manager, will he play me? Can I play well for him?

There are important issues for the manager to address as we go through a rebuilding phase. We cannot get much lower than the Denmark defeat so it is an opportunity to experiment and give a chance to players like Matt Doherty, who is in the form of his life at Wolves. We will possibly have to say goodbye to a couple of the older players and I just hope that if the likes of Glenn Whelan and John O'Shea call it a day, they have the chance to say a proper farewell to the fans. That was always my one big regret from my international retirement.

It is unlikely to happen under Martin but I would be happy to sacrifice this qualifying campaign to introduce the style of football being used throughout the underage teams now so that is the template for the Ireland team.

Our style has been direct for 20 years and we have come through a difficult financial period but can we be brave enough to change that and structure a philosophy throughout the whole set-up? I would rather take a hit to get everyone on the same level and try to win games with something that mirrors what we are doing in underage football.

I am not talking about expansive football, but finding something like the German way to get results. It's a plan that would need four years to put in place and I am not sure Martin and Roy Keane will have the appetite for it.

I am already thinking of Paul Clement. I recommended him before Martin got the job and I still would. The jobs at Swansea and Derby have not worked out for him, but he was not given time and I still remember how impressive he was in the couple of training sessions he put on 15 years ago when he was under-21 coach with Don Givens. He would be well suited to the job.

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