‘Gaffer’ defends Irish record

STEVE STAUNTON has defended his performance as manager of the Republic of Ireland, insisting yesterday that his record “speaks for itself”.

‘Gaffer’ defends Irish record

It was a strange and perhaps unfortunate choice of words given the fact that the national side was, by common consent, loitering at its lowest ebb for years when Giovanni Trapattoni took over from him in February of 2008.

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa defender assumed his responsibilities with the national side from Brian Kerr prior to the qualification stages for Euro 2008 — promptly declaring himself the ‘Gaffer’ at his introductory press conference in Dublin.

A record reading played 17, won six, drew six and lost five doesn’t read all that badly in itself but Staunton only lasted 21 turbulent months after a spell that included an embarrassing 5-2 defeat away to Cyprus and a hairy 2-1 win on the road in San Marino.

Staunton was unfortunate at times too, particularly when the Stephen Ireland ‘Grannygate’ controversy arose on the same trip to Central Europe which, after a draw in Slovakia and defeat in Prague, finally put paid to any faint qualification hopes.

“All I know is we were given certain agendas,” he said at the launch of a Dundalk versus Liverpool legends game at Oriel Park on July 23. “We achieved that. We got players through, young players through.

“We were to improve the seeding and we did that against what was Czech Republic and Germany, sixth and seventh in the world, and Slovakia, who just got knocked out by Spain in the (World Cup qualifying play-offs). My record speaks for itself.”

It didn’t speak nearly loud enough for his employers, however, and the FAI relieved him of his duties after a cloak-and-dagger meeting which assumed circus-like proportions as the media hunted down its location.

Like Mick McCarthy and Kerr before him, Staunton left feeling he could have been afforded more time but he preferred not to dwell on it in Dundalk yesterday. Nor did he accept the opportunity to bask in any reflected glory for the side’s current, stronger showings.

Not even when it was put to him that five of the players that accounted for Italy in Liege last month — Paul McShane, Andy Keogh, Shane Long, Stephen Hunt and Stephen Kelly — made their full international debuts on his watch, and more besides.

“I knew they would come on,” he said. “They had to be given time, like everything. They were kids that have to go through things to realise the highs and the lows and they have gone through a couple of them. That will make them a lot stronger and more determined and that’s why I think things are only going to get better for us.”

Trapattoni continues his push towards the next European Championships tomorrow when he names his squad for the friendly against Croatia — 26 days before the game is played — after which Ireland will resume their qualifying campaign at home to Slovakia.

“They are doing well but they have been a bit unlucky,” said Staunton of his former charges in their time under the Italian. “They have won their last four or five games now. They have been in great form and they have nothing to fear at all now going forward. Nothing at all.”

Staunton’s revealed that his own future lies with an as yet unnamed Premier League club which, given his ties with Anfield and Villa Park, will prompt speculation that he could be earmarked for a role in either the English north-west or midlands.

Staunton, however, was reluctant yesterday to say what his new role will be.

“It’s football-related,” was about as expansive as the former Liverpool and Aston Villa defender got when quizzed further on his plans.

“It’s Premiership,” he said, “that’s all you’re getting. I won’t be able to talk to them because they are on pre-season tour so when they come back we will be discussing it and it is more or less done and dusted.’’

Whatever the identity of his next employer, he retains a keen interest in both his old haunts. A regular spectator at Villa matches, he also believes that Kenny Dalglish is the right man to resurrect former Anfield glories.

“Most definitely. Well overdue. What Kenny will do is he’ll make sure the club is run very well from top to bottom or bottom to top. He’ll make sure the academy is in a strong position. He’ll make sure he gets locals in, he’ll make sure he’ll get a nice blend.

“He’ll show no favouritism and he’ll get young, hungry players mixed in with your Gerrards and Carraghers.”

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