Marc Canham is set to become the FAI’s new Director of Football, brushing off competition from John Morling and Pat Fenlon in the final recruitment stages for the redesigned post.
The vacancy carries more seniority than the High Performance Director role it replaced, still having supremacy over senior managers Stephen Kenny and Vera Pauw but with a wider remit encompassing non-elite aspects.
The Englishman is to arrive from the English Premier League, where he has held various titles, most recently as Director of Coaching for the past 10 months.
That role confers responsibility for the “strategic development of coaching and coach development within the English football professional game.” His experience in liaising with Premier League clubs on Academy structures, as the League of Ireland tries to embark on their own crusade in that field, was thought to be crucial in his selection.
In that regard, the FAI have also recently been leaning on the expertise of Nic Coward, the former Premier League General Secretary and English FA board members who has been paying regular recent visits to FAI headquarters in Abbotstown and clubs.
Aged 39, Canham’s football league playing career consisted of six appearances at Colchester United before spending a decade in non-league, primarily at Bath City.
His international experience entailed 38 appearances and 14 goals for England’s Futsal team, a representative side Ireland no longer operates due to a cull by the previous FAI amid financial pressures triggered by their misguided premium ticketing sales venture.
Canham’s migration into coaching began at the two Bristol clubs, Rovers and City, before he progressed over 11 years at the English FA, when current FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill was also on the staff.
The Premier League came calling in 2013 and to his current position via a myriad of portfolios, namely Club Support Manager, Head of Club Support, Premier League youth working group and Head of Coaching for five years.
It will be fascinating to see how Canham’s arrival is received. The widespread feeling, given two Dutchmen Wim Koevermans and Ruud Dokter had taken the mantle with limited success since 2008, that the time was nigh for an Irishman to be assigned the vacancy.
If not a native, then certainly a person with an intimate knowledge of the unique culture underpinning Irish football, considering its fragmented nature along with competition for budding talent from other sports and necessity to coexist within that sphere.
"I think it is someone who has an understanding of Irish football, of player development,” Hill said in February about their ideal candidate.
“It may not be that we need a specific Irish solution to what are Irish challenges. Does that person need to be Irish? Not necessarily.
“But that will form part of the recruitment process. We will find the best person but they have to understand the context of Irish football.”
In his address to General Assembly delegates on Monday, Hill elaborated on the imminent announcement. “It is an important appointment for us, someone who will review all of our structures from cradle to grave.
“That means across grassroots, player pathways for our more talented players and those youngsters who simply want to play football in the best facilities to the best of their ability. Then through to the League of Ireland Academy structure and onto our international teams.”
The final interview board consisted of President Gerry McAnaney, Chairman Roy Barrett and Bonner in his capacity as Chairman of the high performance and international committee.
Morling seemed a perfect match. He left the FAI in 2012 after seven years as Player Development manager and U17 international boss on his own terms, relocating to his homeland of England to accept the Academy Director’s job at Brighton and Hove Albion.
He only left the Seagulls three months ago and was thought to be the preferred choice of his previous FAI boss Packie Bonner, who rejoined the organisation last year as an independent director with responsibility for high performance and international teams.
Former Bohemians and Shelbourne title-winning manager Pat Fenlon – currently General Manager of Irish League champions Linfield – was also interviewed.
Speculation linking centurion legend John O’Shea with the plum job proved to be just merely that.