Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 November 2017

No sign of cure for Ireland's hangover

New manager will have to face up to grim, debt-ridden world of Irish football, writes David Kelly

Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane
David Kelly

David Kelly

History has demonstrated that Irish international managerial exits can cause volcanic eruptions within the FAI. In 1996, Jack Charlton's awkward removal presaged "Merriongate".

Political fall guys were fatally wounded; nevertheless, the scars of neglect remained scattered throughout the wider Irish football landscape.

Six years later, after an unusual civil war that stemmed from within the Irish team itself, rather than within the smoky corridors of Merrion Square, upheaval again swiftly followed.

A Genesis report accompanied a familiar cull of suits and blazers but, in essence, did nothing to erase the inculcated culture of complacency that has infected Irish football for decades now.

Can the mercifully swift managerial departure this time around prompt a similar bout of introspective navel-gazing?

The wider Irish football community, beyond the armchair and bar stool loudmouths who selectively dip in and out when it suits their TV timetables, should hold their breath.

Urgent renewal is highly unlikely within the current environment. This is the grim reality of the Irish game at the moment.

Even were Ireland to employ an amalgam of Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola as their next manager, this would not be enough to paper over the cracks that have sundered the game in this country.

Those of us who tried to explain this were ignored and labelled as doom-laden spoilsports who were incapable of appreciating the booze-filled bash that was Euro 2012.

Welcome to the hangover. Now there's no money to clean up the mess. The party, if one could even call it that, is over.

What the future holds for John Delaney

The FAI CEO remains untouchable – for the time being.

After being inextricably linked with the disastrous Staunton era, Delaney has been at pains to publicise the fact that FAI Board, who appoint him, hire and fire managers.

Those that advocate his removal, will insist that his position should be as untenable as that of the manager the FAI have just removed.

However, Delaney is an able political operator and his leadership remains largely unchallenged.

Delaney, who ironically rode upon a white horse more than a decade ago in an attempt to unite Irish football, has had his share of criticism, as the briefest glance at social media can swiftly testify.

Excessively demonised by some who are blind to his obvious qualities, to many critics he symbolises the divisions within the sport, instead of unity.

However, regardless of one's political or personal views of the man, there is nobody within the FAI currently possessed of the talents required to form any realistic alternative.

The productive Irish voices with something to offer – whether they be Brian Kerr, Niall Quinn, Roy Keane or Liam Brady – remain outside the loop.

Little suggests that there is room for them with Delaney still at the helm. Which itself strongly hints that the plot will remain unchanged.

Robbie Keane

The words of professional footballers are almost always self-serving. The Irish players that Trapattoni hadn't utterly disillusioned were consistent in their backing for the manager until the inevitability of his departure became clear following Tuesday's defeat to Austria.

Thus, Ireland's great leader, who had so blatantly adhered to Trapattoni's limited sense of ambition and respect for Irish football with his crass pre-match comments, suddenly washed his hands of the Italian.

"It's not my decision," he reiterated when pressed on whether he wanted to endorse the Italian.

This from a man who went to sufficiently embarrassing lengths to bat for his old buddy Steve Staunton when his calamitously short-lived managerial career hung in the balance.

Keane and Trapattoni enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship; each indulged the other to often ridiculous lengths.

Yet the reality is that without Keane's goals, Ireland would be in even worse shape than they are now.

Can a new manager afford to eschew a similarly indulgent approach with the Stateside-based player, especially one whose appetite for international football clearly remains undimmed?

The current squad

There are winners and losers as a result of this managerial change.

Senior defenders such as Richard Dunne and John O'Shea will be more likely to remain on, energised by the attendant breath of fresh air that will inevitably sweep through the squad.

However, with a growing suspicion that the appointment could be delayed until well after Christmas, when additional – and cheap – managerial options become available, ensuring they remain committed may be difficult in a different kind of vacuum.

Aside from the older players, there is likely to be a sense of relief amongst many that they will be allowed greater personal responsibility within a more fluid system of play and be trusted to deliver on their obvious potential.

A phalanx of current players – led by Seamus Coleman, James McClean, James McCarthy and Marc Wilson – were not sufficiently trusted by Trapattoni until it was too late, and they now have the opportunity to prove their erstwhile manager wrong.

Ruud Dokter

Who? No, not a Harry Enfield character but the man charged with transforming football culture in Ireland.

He has our best wishes.

Since his appointment last August, the 57-year-old Dutchman, a man with an intimate acquaintance with the much-lauded structure in his own country, has been seen in public less often than Lord Lucan.

Charged with overseeing the non-senior international men's programme, the women's senior and underage international programmes, as well as coach education and player development, many will argue that his role is more important than that of the incoming senior manager.

His task remains a daunting one.

His predecessor, Wim Koevermans, was reportedly baffled by the lack of cohesion in terms of the development of players or a playing style, from the grassroots up.

It's a departure from logic that the Ireland U-21 team play a different formation to the senior team.


Aside from the romance of pitching up in Brazil for a World Cup with a manager eager to renew acquaintances with Pele, this campaign's failure is a financial calamity for the association.

Although they will not have budgeted for a World Cup, the FAI could have done with the turbo boost that might have been provided – suggestions that they could have reeled in more than €10m from a World Cup year are not outlandish.

Debts of €63m and, most recently, a €6m (15pc) drop in turnover suggests that running an international team and co-habiting a stadium is not as attractive as many might think.

The €6m operating profit in 2012 barely dented their exorbitant debts, as that money was immediately handed over to struggling affiliates (which is their job after all).

Hence the elaborate investment on the Italian managerial trio failed to wash its face in financial terms.

One would hope that the FAI might be able to re-align their priorities. But then, with money tighter than ever, they may not have that luxury.

Ireland play Kazakhstan next month.

For all the guff about how much the international team means to this country – yesterday's slavish news agenda reflected unhealthy obsession, not love – Lansdowne Road will be more than half-empty.

The Irish international team will not solve Irish football's problems; history has shown us that ever since the days when Dr Tony O'Neill was ignored as the FAI of old tossed away the benefits of the Charlton years.

Irish football is condemned by its own history because it keeps on repeating it.

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