Kevin Kilbane believes that Irish football finds itself in an unprecedented situation on the eve of a major tournament, with so much uncertainty still surrounding Martin O’Neill’s future as manager.
“I’m surprised that nothing’s been sorted with regards his contract,” said the former international yesterday. “It’s quite surprising that we’re on the cusp of the Euros and he could have three more competitive games as manager without anyone knowing where his future is going to lie.
“If I look back to previous managerial reigns, whenever we’ve got to a finals it’s been done and dusted.”
“He’s well within his rights (to keep his options open) but I suppose it’s up to others to maybe turn his head and make the decision for him. Put everything on the table.
“I think then it makes it easier for everybody. Because you know what it’s like: the players will come in and they’ll get asked about it in the lead-up to the Euros. What will it be like if Martin stays or goes? They’re questions that they can’t answer and it’s a difficult position for them to be in. I don’t think it will impact on performances. I just think it will make for awkwardness for the players. So I’d prefer it was done and dusted now.”
Last week, O’Neill indicated strongly that it was his decision to postpone agreement on a new deal with the FAI, pointing to how badly things went wrong at the last Euros for Ireland and Giovanni Trapattoni as a significant factor in his thinking. Kilbane, however, reckons the circumstances now are considerably changed from four years ago.
“The way it went with Trap in 2012, I get that fully,” he said. “But I think we’re in a different position now. There was a lot of negativity around the squad going into that tournament, about how we’d qualified. Regardless that it was a great achievement in getting there, we know that. But there was a bit of ill-feeling around it. You’d speak to supporters and it was a 50-50 feeling: some, most, didn’t particularly like how we played and you’d get other guys going it was a great achievement and recognising what he’d actually done.
“But I think now we’re probably geared towards three or four years down the line; we’re not geared towards just this summer. Because regardless of what happens this summer, I think there’s a better feeling around this squad than there was going into Poland and Ukraine. Definitely.
“It’s fair to say the way the Euros went last time, Trap wasn’t the right manager to take us forward for that World Cup campaign. He was done after it and perhaps he should have gone then but once he had agreed a new contract it was a difficult one.
“I go back to my original point: we’re in a different position than we were four years ago and I don’t think we have anywhere near as tough a group as we did then. I think we’ve got a chance, much more of a chance, than we did four years ago.”
In the meantime, speculation about O’Neill’s future continues to swirl, with Everton the latest club – after Nottingham Forest, Celtic and Newcastle United – to be linked (admittedly by bookmakers) to the Ireland manager.
“I think it’s a club that he could manage well,” Kilbane observed. “I think it would suit him the way he is and the way Everton are.” And what of the possibility of Roy Keane going to Celtic? A good move for the Assistant Manager should it come to pass?
“Yeah, definitely. The only reason why is he’d be managing in the Champions League, hopefully.
“Is he going to get a club to manage in the Champions League in England? Probably not. Further down the line he’d be looking at probably a Championship club or a lower Premier League club. It would seem like the right fit for him.”
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