Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 March 2018

Ireland team is not the enemy – Noel King

Interim boss insists personal criticism of players must stop and calls on fans to unite behind Boys in Green

John O'Shea is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's second goal
John O'Shea is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's second goal
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

FROM this morning, it's goodbye to interim Ireland manager Noel King and welcome back to U-21 boss Noel King. He's probably entitled to a lie-in.

The Dubliner could yet regain caretaker status next month but he spoke his parting words yesterday like a man who expected to return to the shadows, perhaps conscious that his employers are ready to move on the manager front.

It is fair to suggest that his stint will live longer in the memory than we might have anticipated. "I wanted to try and put a stamp on things," he asserted, with a nod to his beliefs regarding formations and adapting a modern approach to the international game.

But it is the debate that has surrounded his disputes with the RTE match-analysis panel – and in particular Eamon Dunphy – that has stimulated a discussion about what counts as reasonable criticism of the Irish team. Not the legacy that King might want, although it is a topic he is clearly energised about.


"I've come fresh into this and I'm able to see it now," he explained, in the first moments of a press conference that he was only informed about in the hours after the victory over Kazakhstan on Tuesday night, a final addition to a more crowded itinerary than he might have anticipated when he accepted the stopgap brief.

"The Irish team does their best on the behalf of the country, they really do," he continued. "We need to look at this and say, 'The FAI's not the enemy, the Irish team is not the enemy.' They don't get the credit and the respect.

"I don't know what's wrong. You go to games, and the buzz is a bit down. I don't know the causes but there are probably many."

There is enough room between the lines to interpret what he is getting at. Perhaps there is a contradiction in the sense that King has taken the RTE panel's criticism of his own performance as an indication of a wider problem.

"I'm talking about the players," he insisted. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rump of people who feel that the treatment of King mirrored a general theme. Glenn Whelan hit out last month when he was described as a "terrible player" by Eamon Dunphy, a personal attack that rivalled the previous reference to "brain dead" Darron Gibson. Apologies were necessary on both occasions.

Of course, the TV theatre is part of the circus that has enveloped the Irish team, perhaps going back as far as Saipan. It was put to King that Roy Keane's observation that Ireland were capable of winning the World Cup has led to expectations and, by extension, heightened acrimony when things go wrong.

"There's a lot of aspects to it and that could be one," he mused. "I think we've bought into the English mentality, because we're so close. We're not England, we're Ireland, with a population of four and a half million.

"We've Gaelic (games) and rugby which is very strong, we've soccer which is very strong at times, and that's difficult in itself. People got tired of saying, 'we've had a good old passionate performance by Ireland and we lost.' We are a small nation and we need everybody on board and can't afford to be split."

King is confident that the FAI's appointment will be capable of coping with the attention and, on Monday, Robbie Keane implored the FAI to appoint a man who "doesn't take any s**t".

"The next guy who comes in will be professional, will be mature, will be in his depth and he will be fine," joked King, deliberately listing the opposite of his character flaws in the eyes of his long-term foe, Dunphy.

At this point, the FAI's Director of Communications Peter Sherrard interjected with a view to steering the discussion elsewhere. In Abbotstown, they are weary of controversy involving a manager and talking heads, a divisive issue that does little to attract back fans who are finding there is more entertainment from the post-match shenanigans than the game itself.

Their view of King's handling of his quibble with the state broadcaster is unclear, but they must be impressed by the manner in which he dealt with the Twitter tantrums of Shane Long and James McClean. Giovanni Trapattoni, in his pomp, would have been less sympathetic, and Don Givens left his own mark by having a memorable barney with David Connolly.

While plenty of fans would like to see players slapped down, the stand-in boss is not the man to do it and, in terms of keeping the seat warm for the full-time successor, King deserves credit for welcoming back exiles and dealing rationally with fits of pique.

"Shane has given up his time, left his family, and didn't get a kick of the ball," he said. "I wouldn't expect him to do a jig, I'd expect him to be upset. If he lost his rag and said something about a cowboy, I've no difficulty."

After all, the 57-year-old confessed that he is prone to losing his temper; although it's hardly a revelation to those who tuned in to his Kazakhstan reflections. "I have lost the plot on the pitch and off it, that's football," he added.

King would prefer if the heated debates were about the finer points of the game. Over the course of the past 10 days, he's always been prepared to discuss his tactical logic in his longer sit-down chats.

His views on what players are best suited to his 4-2-3-1 were elaborated upon, with Anthony Stokes and Kevin Doyle favoured as they have the versatility to swap with the central options when the moment allows. The alternative view is that it's too narrow and when Ireland struggled to keep the ball, the lack of a natural wide player was noticeable.

"That's a football argument and that's what we should be doing," he stressed. "Of course we need debate, and of course we have different views and you wouldn't have it any other way. The Irish team is the people's team, but the players give up their time for the country and that should be brought into the equation.

"I think we've lost sight of that a little bit. I think it would be a far better sport, a far better arena, if the personalised stuff was gone and we talked about the football.

"If we can get the supporters behind the national team in every way we'll have a far better, healthier game – that the children want to play in and that people aspire to manage and coach in, rather than an arena of anger or abuse.

"Changing that mood could be the difference in us getting to the next finals."

Irish Independent

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