Kerr the light in Faroe fog

AS witnesses to the rapturous homecoming accorded Giovanni Trapattoni in Italy last week, a few of us fell to speculating on what might constitute a similar scenario back at home — albeit without quite so much rapture, perhaps.

Stan returning as the gaffer of Kazakhstan, said someone. Brian Kerr coming back to Dublin as boss of the Faroe Islands, said another. Oh, how we chuckled at our wonderful Wildean wit.

Well, we’re not laughing now, even if the announcement, barely a week later, that Kerr has indeed taken over at the helm of Faroese football was initially greeted in these parts with reactions ranging from raised eyebrows to the suspicion that it was a belated April Fool’s joke.

But it doesn’t take more than a moment’s reflection to conclude that this is a good news story and a win-win situation for both Brian Kerr and football in the Faroe Islands.

For the Faroese FA, the reward is in landing a national coach of real substance. Kerr’s time as manager of the Irish senior team might not have been sufficiently eye-catching to make him a target for bigger head-hunters but neither was it so underwhelming as to merit getting the bum’s rush from the FAI after just one full competitive campaign.

Under Kerr, Ireland might have turned too many winning situations into draws but they still finished their 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign with just one defeat to their name, and that at the hands of eventual finalists France. The bigger disappointment was that the setback occurred at home, especially after Kerr’s team had gone to Paris earlier in the campaign and, in the course of securing a 0-0 draw, served up one of the best Irish away performance in many years.

And while Kerr had his critics inside and outside the dressing room, it will hardly have gone unnoticed by his new employers that he was a man with enough personal and professional clout to persuade Roy Keane, the most demanding and hyper-critical Irish footballer of them all, to return to the international fold.

But if Kerr’s senior managerial career was ultimately wreathed in disappointment, the same cannot be said of his time as an inspirational underage mentor, a golden era when his unsung Irish sides took on and beat the best in Europe and competed with the best in the world. Such achievements will also have recommended Kerr to a Faroese football association anxious that his experience be brought to bear on all aspects of football on the islands, from the grassroots upwards.

For Kerr, the most obvious attraction of the Faroe Islands job is probably just that — it’s a job. In the football world, as in the world beyond, there aren’t too many of those about these days and, for a committed football man like the 56-year-old Dubliner, the chance to swap the press box and the studio for the training pitch and the stadium must be invigorating.

And while he might be coaching minnows, he’ll be back mixing it, as best he can in the circumstances, with sharks like France and Serbia in a World Cup qualifying group which is currently propped up by his own side, with just one point after four games.

That single point came from a creditable draw with Austria, the most recent indication that the Faroes can occasionally punch above their weight. In other words, Kerr knows that in the proud, physically strong and industrious national team, he has something to work with — not that he would have needed too much reminding, anyway, after his Irish side hardly had it all their own way when they won 2-0 in Torshavn four years ago.

While Kerr can be expected to set his own usual high standards in the job — there must be few figures in the game who can match him for the thoroughness of his preparations — it’s also a simple fact that he has landed in one of the tiny handful of managerial posts in European football where the concept of pressure remains more of a meteorological phenomenon.

Decent performances which translate into narrow defeats, would be no more than the rest of the football world expects of the Faroes. And while the home association and the players themselves would doubtless like to imagine that they could do a bit better than that, even so, you strongly suspect that no time soon will Kerr have to worry about the Faroese John Delaney telling the world about how depressing it is that visiting teams no longer turn up in Torshavn with fear in their eyes.

Steady growth will do fine for Kerr, and if he can inspire his players to some heroic giant-killing feats along the way, then the prospect becomes more real for him that these far-flung Islands could be stepping stones back towards a place in the mainstream of European football.

Meantime, as just about the most off-the-beaten-track job going, the Faroes post will also appeal to the adventurous sensibilities of a man with a lively interest in the world about him, and whose passions have never been confined within the four white lines. And, having visited there myself with the Irish team back in 2005, I can attest that the Faroes certainly boast more than enough to satisfy an open, inquiring mind, especially if it’s one with a taste for unspoilt nature at its most spectacular.

There was a time when one feared that Kerr’s anger and disappointment at the manner in which he lost the Irish job might curdle into corrosive bitterness, but he’s put a few years in between then and now and, as a new point of departure, one would be hard-pushed to think of a more striking and potentially liberating contrast to the bitchy, goldfish bowl world of Irish football than a clean slate in the wild North Atlantic.

Quirky, tiny Torshavn proudly lays claim to being the world’s smallest capital but then I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that homely Inchicore was the centre of the universe either. It’s unlikely that the Faroes will conquer Europe the way St Pat’s did Ireland, but with the same man at the helm their progress will be fascinating to watch.

And who knows, should Ireland draw them in the next European Championships, it might be Brian Kerr who gets to have the last laugh.


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