The FAI should never have allowed the damaging stand-off between manager Pauw and rising teenage star Toland to be played out in public
In an interview the week before her first game as the new Republic of Ireland manager in October 2019, Vera Pauw talked about conflict in a team environment.
The early impression of the Dutch woman was a no-nonsense straight-talker. She got her first coaching job nearly 20 years previously and took on the brief of trying to replicate what she achieved with her home country, the Netherlands, with the Republic of Ireland and the task of trying to qualify for a first major tournament.
During the course of the interview two years ago, the only time Pauw seemed caught for words was when she was asked to describe herself.
“What I hear from others is that I’m honest and open. But it also means I can be harsh in the moment, in the sense of being clear. I’m open for a good argument,” Pauw told the Irish Independent in October 2019.
“Performing at the highest level, you need to pull each other out of your comfort zone. So, pulling each other out of the comfort zone means that you’re uncomfortable and means that conflict will occur but that is not bad. Together, you get stronger from it and actually get better from it as long as it’s fair and open conflict”.
The way the current conflict between Pauw and 19-year-old Tyler Toland has been placed into the public domain over the past week has raised plenty of red flags.
Last Friday, April 30, Pauw answered questions at a press conference about why she has not selected Tyler in the Ireland squad for the last 18 months.
Pauw went on to make serious allegations that she was subjected to “harassment” and “intimidation” by Tyler’s father, Maurice, during a phone call last year after Tyler had been dropped from the squad. Pauw claimed she was told Tyler “will never, ever play for you any more as long as you are coach”.
These allegations were denied by Maurice Toland in articles published on Tuesday. He said he had one phone conversation with Pauw in January 2020 and “to say that I harassed or intimidated her during the call is ludicrous”.
When asked in the press conference last Friday what Tyler needs to do to get back into the Ireland squad, Pauw said she needs to call her – as opposed to a text – “to explain her behaviour” and “maybe a bit of guts would help her. I’m not the one breaking her career. I want to save the career of Tyler Toland”.
Go through what Pauw and Maurice Toland have said and it is a concerning list of claim and counter-claim that leaves you in no doubt that this has gone beyond personal and uncomfortable territory. How has it come to this for Tyler Toland, one of Ireland’s brightest prospects?
Here’s what we do know. Tyler Toland became the youngest ever senior Irish international – at 16 years and 43 days – when she made her Republic of Ireland debut in September 2017.
Largely because of her international form, Toland was signed by Manchester City in August 2019.
Twenty-five days later, she made her 13th international appearance in the Republic of Ireland’s first game of the European championship qualifiers against Montenegro in Tallaght. Toland scored her first international goal in the 2-0 win after which she was named the official player of the match.
That night Pauw was sitting in the stand after being announced as the new manager.
That night was also the last time Toland played for Ireland.
For Pauw’s first and second games in charge – a 3-2 home win over Ukraine in October 2019 and a 1-1 draw in Greece the following month – Toland was an unused sub in both games and this was the beginning of the end of Toland’s involvement.
Pauw cited Toland’s lack of game-time at City for not playing and said: “there is something not going right for Tyler, she is not the player she normally is”. Four months later, in March 2020, Pauw didn’t include Toland in the extended squad for the Euro qualifiers against Greece and Montenegro.
The curious point here is why Toland wasn’t even included in the women’s U-19 squad for the friendlies against Russia in Spain that same month. This is why Maurice Toland said he rang Pauw to see if she could play with the U-19s if she wasn’t going to be with the seniors.
There were other teenage players who dropped into the U-19 squad when they weren’t included in the senior squad. But Toland wasn’t even selected for this squad.
In November 2020, Pauw was asked again why Toland (who had moved to Glasgow City on loan) continued to be excluded, and she said she was “waiting on a call from her to tell me that she wants to be selected again. I want to leave it at that”.
Which brings us up to last Friday when Pauw went nuclear with her version of what was going on.
Obviously, Pauw has every right to select who she wants in a Republic of Ireland squad. That is her responsibility, her prerogative and her choices will ultimately define if she is viewed as successful or not as a manager.
It is also not unusual for a parent of a teenage player to phone the manager or coach of a team (although, needless to say, not in the manner Pauw claims she was spoken to).
But the main point here is the player at the centre of this absolute mess. Oddly enough, we’re used to reports of ‘bust-ups’ between a manager/coach and a player in the Republic of Ireland men’s squad which has happened between experienced adults.
But Tyler Toland is a teenager. It’s ‘he-said-she said’ between Pauw and Maurice Toland so what we can definitively go on is what Pauw said publicly about Tyler Toland last Friday.
Pauw obviously has the power in the dynamic with Toland, she is in the privileged and responsible position of national manager.
According to her dad, Toland texted Pauw last month, on April 14, saying she wanted a “fresh start” and that she’s “willing to do whatever it takes to play with you and get back in your team”.
But it’s believed that Pauw didn’t text back because she wants Tyler Toland to phone her (perhaps an example of the generation gap between how teenagers are comfortable in communicating versus those of an older generation).
However, it seems that text wasn’t even enough for a more conciliatory tone from Pauw last Friday because to publicly state that “maybe a bit of guts would help” Toland is tantamount to public goading of a teenager.
How is this even a remotely acceptable form of language from a manager of our national team about a teenage player?
The bigger question here is how the FAI have allowed this to escalate.
In response to Maurice Toland’s comments earlier this week, the FAI released a statement saying: “This remains an issue between Tyler and our senior manager Vera Pauw, and Vera has our absolute confidence and support in dealing with this in an appropriate and measured manner but this will rightly remain a process that will not be in the public domain.”
If this wasn’t such a sensitive matter, you would almost have to laugh at the last few words of that statement. Unless they didn’t actually listen to what she had to say in the press conference, it was Pauw who firmly put this in the public domain last Friday.
The past has taught us that swift resolution to conflict and the FAI don’t go hand-in-hand. Maurice Toland has called for a mediator to be brought in by the FAI.
Why hasn’t this already been done by the FAI?
Why didn’t the FAI foresee that Pauw was inevitably going to be asked about Tyler Toland in a press conference with the possibility of serious accusations and allegations being made?
This is a wholly unhealthy situation all round but this conflict should never have been allowed get to the point of being played out in public, especially because there is a teenager at the centre of it.
This should have been resolved months ago by the FAI with whatever compromises necessary being made.
That’s really what “saving” the career of Tyler Toland would look like.