FAI must do more than hope for a quick fix

With Martin O’Neill’s exit and a new appointment apparently imminent as Ireland manager, it looks as if the FAI are hoping for a quick-fix to boost chances of qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals which will be part-hosted in Dublin, says Liam Brady.

But simply changing the senior manager doesn’t begin to address the much deeper problems in Irish football, particularly with regard to the development of homegrown talent. 

And, in order to rectify that, I believe that John Delaney and FAI need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. A root and branch review of how the game is run in our country is long overdue.

In the short-term, Mick McCarthy is an obvious name in the frame to succeed Martin O’Neill and as much as I would have been a supporter of Mick in the dark days of Saipan, I feel there is a strong argument for giving a younger man a chance. 

It would be a real disappointment to me, though hardly a surprise, if the FAI don’t seriously consider Stephen Kenny. 

I admire Kenny’s approach to management and I especially admire the way he gets his teams to play football. 

But I doubt the FAI are prepared to take what they would probably see as a gamble on the man who did the double with Dundalk this year.

In the meantime, I would be sceptical about the timing and reasons for O’Neill’s departure. 

Bad as the year has been for the team, this Nations League was always going to be a preparatory competition for Euros qualifying and the manager obviously had to use the games to have a look at new players.

He had some credit still in the bank on the back of qualifying for Euro 2016 and doing well in France and, also in his defence, he has since lost experienced players and endured injuries to important personnel, factors which were bound to take an even heavier toll of Irish prospects given that I consider the current squad to be probably the least talented we have had since I started to play for Ireland in 1974.

All that said, there is no avoiding the fact that O’Neill’s team never really showed signs of recovering from the 5-1 World Cup drubbing by Denmark in Dublin, a story of regression rather than progression over the course of 2018 summed up by the most recent games against Northern Ireland and Denmark. 

It can only be described as a sad state of affairs when an Irish team plays two consecutive matches in which they hardly enjoy any possession of the football.

Despite the success O’Neill had with Ireland’s qualification for the Euros, we have never had what you might call a style of play in the time he was in charge. He chopped and changed players, especially in midfield. 

The formation changed from a flat back four to three at the back with wing-backs, and it was hard to see the logic behind what he was trying to achieve.

Would there still have been a way forward under his management? Normally you give up on a manager when you see that players are lacking commitment. 

But I don’t think that was the case with Ireland. The players were still trying their best. 

And, sure, part of the game is about doing your defensive stuff by closing down space, tracking runners, blocking crosses, getting your body in the way of shots. All of that the players were willing to do in Denmark.

But the problem is that these days they actually look more comfortable when they don’t have the ball. And if you are to have any hope of really asking questions of the opposition, you simply have to be better on the ball. 

Watching this team has become a painful experience because you hardly ever see them complete more than a couple of passes before the move breaks down.

Going back to Jack Charlton, he didn’t believe in building up from the back. Instead, we were told to hit the ball to the front and, as the ball would drop, we would pressurise the opposition and go from there. 

But that was a clear method of playing and the players knew exactly what he wanted and how to carry it out.

Similarly, Giovanni Trapattoni, although he was criticised for omitting some of the more skilful players, like Andy Reid, had a method of playing involving someone who could hold the ball upfront while the midfield would push on and the wide men would tuck in. 

The intention was to have enough bodies there when the ball dropped and the result was that we would enjoy possession in the opposition half.

But with Martin O’Neill, I didn’t see either/or. Apart from being really committed when we were out of possession, I didn’t see any method at all.

But, as I’ve already indicated, by far my biggest worry is that the newer players coming through have done little to encourage the belief that they will be able live up to the feats of Irish teams of the past.

This is why the FAI urgently need to take action.

Chief executive John Delaney was a big supporter of the Genesis Report which promised a major overhaul of our football governance after the Saipan fiasco of 2002. 

I was among a number of people in the game who was asked for my opinion at the time but, all these years later, I would suggest that another review is now required, one which would have the fundamental purpose of addressing the question of what has happened to our production of football talent.

Denmark is a country comparable in population size to Ireland and, in football terms, not too dissimilar in the way that a lot of their players go abroad at a young age. But, at the moment, there is no comparison between the nations’ two senior teams.

The Danes are comfortable on the ball and confident in playing out from the back. If they’re blocked down one side they are capable of manoeuvring the ball across to the other side. 

It’s clear that, all around the pitch, the players know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

We need to put right what has evidently gone wrong and there is no time to waste. 

With all due respects to the lads in the senior team who always try hard and give it their best, it’s not enough for us to be depending on players from the Championship or players who have only recently graduated from the League of Ireland.

In terms of our worryingly limited options with strikers, for example, our most experienced player is Shane Long and his woes as regards goal-scoring have been well-documented. 

And while we certainly need him in his best form, we also need to ask why he is the only striker we currently have with any standing in the international game.

Whether a new manager can restore confidence and introduce a style of play which gets results remains to be seen. 

But any manager can only work with what he has in terms of the pool of players available.

The FAI need to recognise that and try and find a solution to it. 

Because if Denmark can do it, so can we.

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