Sport Soccer

Monday 20 November 2017

Martin O'Neill comes under FAI risk assessment

Fears raised over poor record without No 2 Robertson

John Robertson (left) has worked well as an assistant to Martin O'Neill in the past, but has been laid low with health problems
John Robertson (left) has worked well as an assistant to Martin O'Neill in the past, but has been laid low with health problems
FAI CEO John Delaney

Garry Doyle

IF they aren't careful, there is a grave danger the FAI could end up with a good reputation.

Two weeks after acting with uncharacteristic haste and assuredness by sacking Giovanni Trapattoni and his Italian entourage, the association have deliberately avoided making a knee-jerk reaction by appointing a successor without first asking previous employers for a reference.

As a result, Irish football is back in a vacuum, the sort that filled the winters of 2002-03, 2005-06 and 2007-08, when botched attempts were made to fill the posts left empty by Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton.

Then there was neither rhyme nor reason to their plans, as convoluted process followed convoluted process before they stumbled across their man.

This time, though, they have a system established and are sticking to it – one in which they have said little publicly while privately they have busily been employing intermediaries to conduct background checks on O'Neill's managerial practices.

And all of a sudden, doubts have emerged about whether he is the perfect fit. He may be interested in the position and the FAI may have the finances to fund his salary, but the O'Neill candidacy comes with an asterisk attached.

Without John Robertson, the assistant who helped build his reputation, the Derry man is suddenly being viewed as a risky choice.


Ultimately, it may still prove to be the one the FAI will take because two of the alternative candidates – Brian McDermott and Chris Hughton – have removed themselves from the race, leaving just O'Neill and a couple of guys who have a bit of previous with both the FAI and each other, McCarthy and Roy Keane.

"Neither Mick nor Roy will carry unanimous board support", said one FAI source at the weekend, "although that isn't crucial, either."

And O'Neill? "No comment."

The only time chief executive John Delaney has spoken about the matter either on or off the record was last week when he said that the association's priority was to get the right appointment, rather than a quick one.

"We have time on our hands," said Delaney. "Next September is our next qualifying game of importance. The games against Germany and Kazakhstan are not of importance."

What is of significance to Delaney, though, is whether O'Neill – minus Robertson – is up to the job.

At Sunderland, the one club where they didn't work together – O'Neill failed, winning just 21 of the 66 matches for which he was in charge.

Since then, Robertson's health has deteriorated. He suffered a heart-attack last month playing tennis and, while his recovery has gone according to plan, an immediate return to work – even in the less demanding role of international football – is unlikely.

Delaney, meanwhile, has received feedback on how the pair dovetailed perfectly, O'Neill being the motivator, Robertson the technical guru who organised the training sessions, bringing to mind the old quote Brian Clough used to describe the dynamic between himself and Peter Taylor.

"I might have been the shop-window but Peter was the goods at the back of the store," said Clough.

"If you want to be a good No 1 you have to get yourself an even better No 2."

Without Robertson on Wearside, O'Neill didn't have that luxury and suddenly players started to talk out of school about his shortcomings, the limited number of hours he put into training, the tactical predictability of his side's systems, the repetitive nature of his team-talks.

Having heard all this, Delaney will have plenty to say today or tomorrow when the FAI board meet for the first time since Trapattoni's departure.

Neither O'Neill nor anyone is likely to be appointed on a permanent by next Friday – the day clubs have to be informed of the players Ireland will be selecting for the Germany and Kazakhstan matches.

U-21 manager Noel King, who holds a UEFA Pro License, will almost certainly be given the job on an interim basis.

That's just a side issue, though. Whether they go down the route they did in 2007 – post-Staunton – by appointing a three-man committee to interview prospective candidates, is one item sure to appear on the agenda.

Delaney, scarred by the abuse he took for handing Staunton the reins in 2006, deliberately distanced himself from the Trapattoni appointment and publicly, at least, may take a back seat again.

Privately, however, he has been busy over the last fortnight. The calls have gone out to his contacts in the UK and the feedback on O'Neill has not been wholly positive.

O'Neill may still get the job but the more time that passes without an announcement made, the more we think of Terry Venables and the way he was played by the FAI nearly six years ago.

Irish Independent

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