In football, there is an infinite number of reasons why a manager can be asked to pack his bags, but the bottom line when the new man is hired is always the same: do better than the last guy.
Sometimes that isn’t near enough to stave off the chop, but it’s not a bad starting point as we approach a four-month international hibernation which allows us to look back on Martin O’Neill’s first year after Giovanni Trapattoni.
O’Neill would say that things aren’t half bad. In fact, that’s more or less what he said at Monday’s pre-match press conference when, clearly exasperated by what he believed to be the pessimistic tone of the questioning, he made the case for the defence.
Both his and his team’s.
Seven points from four games, three of them tough fixtures away from home, wasn’t to be sniffed at. That was the gist of it, and he supported it by pointing out that four of five competitive games next year will be played in the Aviva Stadium.
We’ll ignore the flaw in that argument for now that is Ireland’s abysmal home form in qualifiers since, well, Roy Keane himself was in his pomp and taking a cut out of Marc Overmars, but the fact is that little has changed thus far.
Ireland had six points from three games this time two years ago and it was seven points from four outings back in November of 2010. Boil all that down and are we really in that different a place now?
Statistics aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there’s no doubt but that those pointed out above could be filleted by a first-year law student if they were presented in court against the current regime.
What is less arguable is the fact that O’Neill’s side has offered little more going forward as a creative force than Trapattoni’s managed — and for which the Italian was roundly criticised towards the end — so last night’s goal rush was welcome.
David McGoldrick’s sublime assists for the first two goals and the late efforts from James McClean and Robbie Brady will at least allow management, players and supporters to harbour fond memories as they demob until March.
Yet, there were caveats, too.
Many are the teams that have made Ireland look pedestrian in Dublin, but should they really be outshone at the passing game, as they were at times last night, by players who play for clubs such as San Jose Earthquakes, Stoke City and Real Salt Lake?
Mix Diskerud, who scored the American’s well-worked opener last night, was last seen in these parts helping Rosenborg squeak past Sligo Rovers in a Europa League tie at the Showgrounds in August. That’s worth remembering after this 4-1 win.
Yet, there were other signs that progress has been made, not least in the stands where the crowd of 33,332 was up significantly on the 16,256 who took in the visit of Greece this time in 2012 or the 25,000 who coughed up for Norway’s visit four years ago.
Proof positive that the unbridled optimism which greeted O’Neill and Keane’s appointment 12 months ago has still to fade yet it will take much more than this to wash away the memories of the dour and flat display offered in Glasgow four days earlier.
The US, despite this defeat, are on a similar pathway.
Like Strachan, Jurgen Klinsmann is attempting to mould a group of decent but ordinary players into a collective greater than their individual parts and they, too, are prioritising an injection of skill onto an existing base of steel.
“The US team has always played with a lot of energy and commitment and there has always been a high level of identity with the national team,” Klinsmann explained this week. “There has always been a great spirit and chemistry within the group.
“That was always part of the approach. My job is to get them technically to the highest level possible and tactically and individually off the field.” O’Neill has yet to do that, or prove that he can do better than his predecessor.
The next year will tell all.
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