People of a certain vintage may remember a television sitcom titled One Foot In The Grave. The confidence in the FAI and CEO John Delaney for me is dead and buried. Their latest shenanigans have led me to quote a phrase from that sitcom. “I don’t believe it!”
The decision to sack Martin O’Neill after a turbulent 12 months where Ireland had won a single game from 11 is fine on the surface. After the 5-1 defeat to Denmark and even fluttering of eyelashes in the direction of Stoke City last year, it was fair not to relieve Martin of his duties. But surely Delaney had the intelligence to wait and see how things would pan out ’til after the Nations league.
What did Delaney do? He offered Martin a new contract after the wranglings of last season. Making Martin the 4th highest paid international manager in Europe. If he wanted to rid his manager after the Nations League he would have to pay him millions in compensation in which Delaney was forced to do last week. The smart thing to do would be to let Martin see out his contract and take it from there. But you see Delaney and the FAI are not very smart.
Mick McCarthy will take up the reigns once more, 16 years after his first spell in charge. Big Mick will take charge for the next 18 months only, receiving almost two million within that time. There is no other job the former Irish centre-back could get for near that money. Stephen Kenny will take over the Ireland U21 squad along with the responsibility of input into underage sides as far down as the U15’s. This is where it gets bizarre. Stephen Kenny will take up the senior post after Euro 2020 when McCarthy is expected to stand down.
So what are the FAI saying here? Euro 2020 is unique. It will be the 50th anniversary of UEFA and 12 countries will be involved in hosting the tournament. That will include the Rep Of Ireland. The suggestion here is that Barnsley born McCarthy is a safer pair of hands. That the FAI believe that Kenny cannot lead Ireland to the tournament but McCarthy can. But why?
The football landscape has changed since McCarthy resigned from the Irish job in 2002. In that time the former Ipswich boss had the luxury of top-class players such as Shay Given, Roy and Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Richard Dunne. Add to that, players such as Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland would expect to walk into the current squad.
It took Mick three tournament attempts to qualify for one whilst managing the Irish despite being armed with a very good squad of players. His club record is hardly anything to write home about either. Managing a couple of promotions to the Premier League with Sunderland and Wolves the highlights in the previous 15 years.
Mick will bring his longtime assistant Terry Connor with him. Interestingly to the public is the appointment of Robbie Keane as part of the backroom team. Nothing against Robbie as he is rightly a legend of Irish football, but clearly this is a sweetener and a PR move from Delaney.
Stephen Kenny has produced a hell of a job at Dundalk leading the club to four league titles and two FAI cups since 2013. When he took over the Lilywhites they were far from a powerhouse in Irish football. He also led the club to the Europa League group stages and beat teams like Bate Borisov, a club with far more resources. He plays an entertaining brand of attacking football regardless of opposition.
No doubt that Kenny will put everything he has into the Irish underage structures and he is highly respected as a great coach. Another PR stunt to keep the wolves at bay? Who is to say that in two years Kenny will be Ireland manager for sure? What would happen if John Delaney decided to leave his post? Unlikely, true, but no guarantees at this stage apart from biding time for Mr Delaney.
The FAI have long neglected football in this country when it comes to grassroots. The Rep Of Ireland has no centre of excellence or proper academies. Yet we have a lot of great coaches in the country with top licences. The potential is there, but the appetite is not from the top brass. John Delaney has essentially lead the FAI since 2005, yet he is still unaware or ignorant of the bigger picture.
By neglecting the League of Ireland, he has chosen to neglect Irish football. There is no relationship between the FAI and the league. Times have changed, we cannot depend on the ‘granny rule’ for players. Look at Jack Grealish and possibly Declan Rice. Overpaying the senior management needs to be halted and that money put into setting up academies and a centre of excellence. We need to produce our own and give our kids the best opportunities to be as good as they can be.
If Iceland can do it with less money and resources then Ireland has no excuse. Trust the great people who care about football in Ireland. If John Delaney believes in given the likes of Mick McCarthy almost two million to manage the country for 18 months, then I cannot see his attitude changing. His recent actions for me are a token gesture and he simply has not got the will or stomach to tackle the real issues. As long as Delaney is CEO then nothing will change. Believe that.