Since it was announced towards the end of November 2018 that Stephen Kenny would be succeeding Mick McCarthy as Ireland manager once his contract was finished, Irish fan’s have been looking forward to the International team taking a radical new approach both on and off the field. The Corona Virus pandemic has helped usher in this new era sooner than most of us expected.
With the announcement that they would not be renewing Mick McCarthy’s contract past July of this year, the FAI have acted in a way we have rarely seen from them in the last decade or so. That is swiftly, decisively and smartly. It was a decision that was somewhat forced upon them and with money a large factor in their decision making no doubt, but the right decision was made.
Now that John Delaney is not a presence in Irish football any longer and with a football association that is keen to put the past behind them, their hasn’t been a better time for football in this country to change the way it thinks about and approaches the game on the international stage. John Delaney is one of the main reasons the game we love has been floundering for the last number of year’s in this country. Short term thinking that was dictated by how much money could be made was Delaney’s main modus operandi, along with lining his pockets and furthering his own career as a football administrator, with little regard for the actual playing of the game.
You only have to look at the appointments of McCarthy and Kenny to see that. Qualifying for the next tournament was always his number one goal. You might think to yourself that this is totally normal and should be the number one target for every national side, and you would usually be right. But context is everything. Kenny has a completely different philosophy compared to nearly all of Ireland’s previous managerial appointments. He is a pragmatic coach who likes to try and play football. We all know this, and Delaney knew this when he appointed him McCarthy’s successor. His appointment was an admission that Ireland as a footballing nation had fell behind the rest of Europe and that a change was needed. The fan’s have realised this for a long time.
So why not appoint him then and there back in November 2018? Because the FAI were in a bad way financially and needed the extra revenue they would receive if they qualified for Euro 2020. And to achieve that, Delaney thought the team needed an experienced pair of hands in the shape of Mick McCarthy. Looking back now would Kenny have done as good of a job as Mick had? Probably yes, but Delaney couldn’t take that chance and afford Kenny the time he would be needed to rebuild a team, and totally change the way it plays. It’s this type of short term thinking that has seen Ireland fall way behind a lot of other European countries when it comes to how we play football.
With Delaney now gone, hopefully that’s the last we will see of this type of short term goal setting. Successful football team’s are the team’s that have long term goals and use long term planning. Look at the likes of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola. They know exactly what they want from a team and plan accordingly over a number of seasons. Success is achieved gradually and not over night. Our neighbour’s England have used the same approach at International level and for the last few years have been reaping the rewards sown from a total overhaul of how they play the game through all age levels.
We have all seen how our U21 team has performed under Kenny and have had a long time to learn what we should expect from him as manager of the senior team. We all have also had plenty of time to get to know all the up and coming player’s that are making waves at senior and youth level, with plenty of them on show week in week out over in England.
With all this knowledge it’s important to remember that the massive upheaval needed when it comes to how we play football is going to take time. Probably a lot of time. What should we look at as an acceptable bar to judge our new manager and his team over the next few year’s? Certainly not qualifying for the Euro’s or even the next World Cup shouldn’t be seen as failure if we see improvements on the pitch in how we play the game. Would you rather the team develop over the next few year’s a style that is exciting and enjoyable to watch, or for the team to keep with the same approach as they have had under the likes of Trapattoni and O’Neill, where the type of football you play doesn’t really matter as long as you qualify for tournaments. The “ we haven’t got the player’s “ type of approach.
This is not to say that Ireland under Kenny won’t qualify for either the Euro’s or the next World Cup because there is every chance they might. Especially with the group of young player’s that is currently coming through, some of the most promising we have seen since “Kerr’s kids”.
Kenny’s appointment and time as Ireland manager will hopefully be just the first chapter in a new era of Irish football. One that produces teams willing to pass the ball and not be afraid to express themselves on the pitch . A team that doesn’t just rely on heart and courage and physicality, but on skill and tactical thinking. The type of team that would embrace a player like Wes Hoolahan and not see him as some sort of big risk or weakness.
This will take time though, and we as fan’s need to be prepared for that. The next time things are going badly we need to remember that Stephen Kenny and his team are not just trying to qualify for the next tournament, they are trying to achieve something much more important. They are trying to make us proud of how we play football and make the Irish team a source of joy again. Something I think we should all be getting behind.