Monday 23 April 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Only the Paw Patrol can solve childish O'Neill-Koeman spat

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Anybody who knows children under the age of seven is probably already familiar with the workings of the Paw Patrol. For the lucky ones who aren't, they are a group of pups in a children's TV show who find ways to solve any emergency because "no job is too big, no pup is too small". Led by a young boy named Ryder, the residents of Adventure Bay are told that, whenever they are in trouble, just yelp for help.

In my house last week there was a full and frank exchange of views about a toy called Everest, a member of the Paw Patrol, which the two-year-old and four-year-old both, to use their word, "needed". It had the perfect name for the regular occurrence of a mountain being made out of a molehill.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman Photo: Reuters
Everton boss Ronald Koeman Photo: Reuters

The eldest was on solid ground when arguing that the toy actually belonged to her and that her brother had several other Paw Patrol figures he could play with. This didn't cut much ice with him, however, as he got his point across despite having far fewer words in which to do so.

A compromise was, eventually, reached brokered by me, for whoever was in charge to try not to damage it. As the parent, I'm ultimately responsible for both of their moods, I'm theoretically in charge even though we all know they call the shots but, when everyone is available, I'm probably not their first choice.

Which brings us neatly to James McCarthy.

Perhaps the dastardly writers of the Paw Patrol could write an episode where a 65-year-old man has been a bit mean to a 54-year-old man because they both want to have full use of a 27-year-old man. The 65-year-old will argue that he was only being mean because the 54-year-old accused him of doing something he didn't do which upset him and both will probably say that they're not saying sorry until the other one says it first.

As for McCarthy, he must feel like a child whose parents are having an argument and are both trying to get him onside but, in this case, he probably wishes that Martin O'Neill and Ronald Koeman would just grow up a bit.

O'Neill was known to be furious about Koeman's accusation that he hadn't protected McCarthy after he named him in the team to play Wales before the midfielder pulled out injured prior to kick-off.

It's understandable that Koeman would be angry that his toy, sorry, player was being given back to him in a more damaged state than he gave it over but, particularly for a player who doesn't always start when fully fit, his reaction was, at best, over the top.

In another environment, accusing a professional person to have failed in their duty of care would see a solicitor's letter in the post before you could say "libel laws" and had it been a journalist making the accusation rather than Koeman, it's unlikely the claims would have got past the lawyers.

In midweek, O'Neill had already let it be known that he was furious about the accusation but Koeman raised the stakes on Friday with a pre-prepared statement that "the Ireland manager who in my opinion in this instance was not protecting the player". Cue: Koeman hits out at O'Neill.


That night, O'Neill released a strong and slightly strangely-worded statement calling Koeman "a master tactician of the blame game". Cue: O'Neill hits back at Koeman who hit out at O'Neill.

Later than night, Koeman tweeted his response. Cue: Koeman blasts back at O'Neill who hit back at Koeman after he hit out at O'Neill.

Like many people, Koeman read O'Neill's statement as arguing that McCarthy had only 11 days' rest before playing three games in eight days which isn't correct but because of the way it was written could easily have been interpreted that way.

"James had a magnificent tournament for the Republic of Ireland last summer during UEFA EURO 2016," wrote O'Neill of a player whose performance against Belgium was widely derided before he was taken off after 62 minutes, and was replaced by Wes Hoolahan in the games against Italy and France.

In the same paragraph, O'Neill ranges from lack of detail to specific knowledge which seems to be where the crux of the argument lies.

McCarthy played "his last game in very late June" - why not June 26? "He then returned to Everton after a very short break" - how short was the break?

"But only 11 days later, he played his first of three games, all within an eight-day period, against Real Betis, Manchester United and Espanyol. Overloading?" it adds.

Koeman, like many people, seemed to take this as arguing that McCarthy only had 11 days' rest before playing against Betis but, if he returned to Everton training on July 19, he would have had three-and-a-half weeks off, as Koeman said, before playing against Betis for an hour 11 days later. It just depends whether you constitute three-and-a-half weeks as "a very short break".

McCarthy played for an hour against Betis, 65 minutes against United and 27 minutes against Espanyol which, by any reasonable assessment, is far from overloading, particularly when he started the following week in the first game of the Premier League season against Tottenham. But then, as anyone who has tried to solve a childish argument will attest, what's reasonable or not has nothing to do with it.

In November, during the first round of this nonsense, this column argued that McCarthy's usual response to controversy was to get his head down and work hard which, with two managers who are accusing the other of not resting him enough, won't work this time.

Koeman had another go at O'Neill after Saturday's Merseyside derby defeat but the Ireland manager would now be better keeping his counsel, particularly if Koeman is going to talk about being "proud" of such a limp performance. The Everton manager also had a pop at Liverpool coaching staff and, with a trip to Old Trafford and a sideline to share with Jose Mourinho tomorrow night, Koeman should have enough on his plate.

It will probably take Ryder and the Paw Patrol to broker a truce but even for the target market of the show, the whole argument might be a little too childish.

Irish Independent

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