Six degrees of separation

IS THERE anything worse than this?

You’re in America, you’re introduced to a local and, when they hear you’re from Ireland, their little innocent face lights up, and they positively gush: “Oh, Ireland! My grandparents came from Ireland. Do you know the O’Flahertys? From Cork?”

Actually, there is something worse than this. It’s that chilling moment when you realise that, not only do you know the O’Flahertys from Cork, but they drove you to the airport to get catch your plane.

Ireland is still a small spot and our professional football world is even smaller, so maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the managerial headhunters currently going about their business have a certain amount of previous with some of the candidates who will be sitting on the other side of the desk.

No sooner were Don Givens and Don Howe unveiled than it was pointed out that they had connections with hot favourite Terry Venables going way back: Givens played with him at QPR in the 70s and Howe was his coach in the England set up in the mid-90s. Then Ray Houghton was added to the recruitment team and conspiracy theorists promptly switched focus to note that another candidate, Liam Brady, had links to all three, having played under Howe at Highbury, played alongside Houghton for Ireland and, of course, made his international debut on that memorable afternoon in 1974 when, inspired by a Givens hat-trick, Ireland beat the Soviet Union 3-0 at Dalymount Park.

Come to think of it, your present correspondent was in Dalyer that day, standing on tiptoe in a generally-vain attempt to see over the heads of the packed crowd. I wonder does this compromise my ability to pass comment on the current situation? And, while I’m putting cards on the table, I might as well reveal that, in 1989, I had a nice little chat with another would-be Irish manager, Howard Kendall. I was in Spain at the time, doing a piece with Kevin Moran whose Sporting Gijon side were playing Athletic Bilbao, then managed by Kendall. After the game, Moran made the introductions and Kendall gave me a present of a little Bilbao badge. Needless to say, he is now my hot tip for the job.

Adding Houghton to the ticket was a smart move by the FAI, since the Howe/Givens axis was destined to come under even more forensic scrutiny in the event of Venables getting the gig. Where there does appear to be a more obvious conflict of interest, is in the fact that Givens would be interviewing people who could hold the U-21 manager’s future in the palm of his hands. Givens wouldn’t be human if the thought didn’t cross his mind but there is a straight-up quality about the man which convinces that he will make what he believes is the right decision, whatever the consequences. Best now to let the three wise men get on with it and, preferably sooner rather than later, put us all out of our misery. Sorry, I mean, galvanise the nation with the fruits of their labours.

But then, just when the succession stakes seems to have a taken every twist and turn imaginable, up pops our dear beloved leader — Bertie, not John — to put his boot into the entire concept. As reported elsewhere on these pages, the Taoiseach will go on national radio today and question whether we really need a full time national football manager at all. He also mentions, in downright sniffy tones, a salary of e700,000 for “a few matches a year”. The subtext, if I may be so bold, is that someone you and I know, has to run a whole damn country on less than half that (and better not to mention, I suppose, that informed sources suggest the next occupant in the hotseat — that’s Abbotstown, not Leinster House, incidentally — will probably be on something over the cool million mark).

Is it just me, or does the Taoiseach sound more and more like a man with less and less to lose? A man who senses that his own reign as national gaffer is perhaps coming to the premature end of its 40-year plan? A man who has sized up the cold realities of the situation and, in the immortal words of Yosser Hughes approaching Graeme Souness in a nightclub, finally feels free to assert: “Gizza job. I could do that.” Watch this space.

Meanwhile, regular readers will be pleased to know that our O’Tel headline-hunting continues to bear fruit. Herewith, a brisk round-up of the leaders to date. Venables gets a four-year contract? “Four Seasons O’Tel.” Venables doesn’t get the job? “Heartbreak O’Tel.” Those in favour of Venables getting the job? “The O’Tel Lobby.” And, of course, those somewhat sceptical about Venables as Irish manager, can only be said to hold...what? Come, come, it’s obvious. “O’Tel Reservations.”

All good clean fun which is why, in this family newspaper, you won’t see us capitalise on a certain Dutch legend’s interest by suggesting that a future headline could read: “FAI bosses give Haan job.”

No, you’ll have to go elsewhere for that lower class of stuff.

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