With Mick McCarthy having his time in the Ireland hotseat called short and Stephen Kenny taking over with immediate effect there has been a great deal of hype surrounding the new man. But was he the best option? There had been many names linked to the job prior to the ambitious appointment, including former international managers and big-name Premier league bosses. Here are three candidates who may have given Kenny a run for his money.
The former Republic of Ireland international has been linked with the post of national team boss repeatedly throughout the years. His pedigree at club level is unquestionable. Promotions with Newcastle and Brighton and a strong spell in the topflight with both the latter and Norwich make his CV pleasant reading for those tasked with headhunting the new boss. Hughton also knows the international game more than the average manager having worked under Brian Kerr as assistant. The former Spurs man also had a fantastic playing career. becoming a legend at White Harte Lane and making more than fifty appearances for the boys in green. This is more vital experience that Stephen Kenny is undoubtedly lacking. Red flags however must be posted over the issue of playing style. Hughton has long been criticized for his largely defensive style, an asset that likely cost him both the Norwich and Brighton jobs despite results being above any expectations. His CV is more impressive than that of Stephen Kenny, but would he really excite the nation in the same way as the former Dundalk man has. Would he relight are enthusiasm for international football. I think the answer to both these questions is a resounding no and while Hughton would probably have been a safe pair of hands like Martin O’Neill or Mick McCarthy he just lacks a certain aura which Kenny has in abundance.
Now this would be controversial. A man who left the England national team’s hotseat in disgraceful circumstance and had probably not even given Ireland a second thought until he was jobless at the same time as a vacancy opened up. The links to Big Sam were for many reminiscent of when Terry Venables looked the favourite before Trapp got it many years ago. However, there is certainly some degree of logic in considering the Bolton Wanderers icon as a possible option. His record at club level was probably the most impressive of anyone linked the position. A miracle worker at both Bolton and Sunderland Allardyce is without question a good manager at a club level in England. He even has a surprising link to Ireland having remarkably played for and managed Limerick in the early 90s. But for many the fiasco that was his time in charge of England has tarnished his reputation to an extent that if the FAI had unveiled that Allardyce was next in line it would have been somewhat embarrassing for all involved. Despite his fantastic record there was no way that Big Sam could have got the job due to mainly off the pitch issues. Despite the heavy links this one was likely never even seriously considered and, in my view, rightfully so.
Now this one was only mentioned by the most idealistic of Ireland fans. Robbie Keane after a few years coaching with Middlesbrough and Ireland makes a glorious return to the spotlight as the national team boss. Keane does have the pedigree as a leader of men captaining his country and La Galaxy on numerous occasions over the years. His incredible goal scoring record has also ensured his place as a national hero and we have seen scenarios like this one work in the past. Jurgen Klinsmann as Germany boss, Frank Lampard now doing well at Chelsea. There are real solid examples that can pointed to and used to back up the idea of a Robbie Keane appointment. He would certainly have the respect of everyone in the dressing room having played with some and been a role model to others over the years. He has also had experience playing under great managers and his international pedigree is almost astounding. There is however one huge elephant in the room when discussing recently retired Irishmen as the National team boss. Steve Staunton. Staunton’s calamitous period in charge means that unfortunately for Robbie any appointment akin to it would likely have been a no go. It would have been interesting, and he would have had the Nations backing but missteps in the past have made sure that this will probably never happen again.
So, while these three were all strong candidates for the position in their own ways none of them would have got the universal support that Kenny has received since being announced. I do think Stephen Kenny was the man for the job considering the other available and realistic candidates for it. However only time will tell if the FAI have had a master stroke or if we’re in for a few more years of hurt.