Noel King’s future as Ireland U-21 manager hangs in the balance after the FAI confirmed that an announcement on the position is imminent.
King has been at the helm since 2010, overseeing four full campaigns, and spoke last week about his expectation of being still in charge in December when the draw for the 2021 qualifiers takes place.
That may be out of his hands, however, as it’s understood a review of the latest campaign has been under way since last week’s concluding fixture. The 2-0 defeat to table-toppers Germany was Ireland’s fourth in their last six qualifiers.
Here, Pundit Arena take a look at fifteen possible replacements for King.
44-year-old Lee Casley one of Britain’s highest regarded young coaches and has been involved with several clubs including Manchester City and Brentford. While caretaker manager with the Bees, the former Ireland midfielder won Championship manager of the month in October 2015. Is currently the England under-21 assistant coach and was said to have offered his services to the Irish youth setups several years ago. He is becoming a specialist in youth development, a talented tactician and also headed the FA’s player retention project that stopped players defecting to other countries, a role that could be key for the Irish under-21s at present.
Brian Kerr is a man who needs very little introduction. The former Irish senior boss headed a successful Irish youth set up in the 90s, producing players such as Damien Duff and Robbie Keane. His knowledge and wealth of experience would be invaluable to what arguably is the most exciting under-17 and 19 Irish squads to break into the 21 grade since Kerr’s days in charge. Bringing in former assistant and Ireland under 20 coach Gerry Smith could provide a nostalgic coaching ticket.
Former Liverpool and Ireland stalwart Steve Heighway has vast experience at youth level having brought through Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManamann and Jamie Carragher at Liverpool. The 70-year-old former winger seems to build strong relationships with young players. Is technically retired but could be the perfect mentor to the Irish under-21 crop or even a wise head to assist a younger managerial option.
Tom Mohan has managed Ireland at under 17 and 19 level and has gained a reputation of promoting an attractive style of football. He has also maintained a wonderful consistency of results, securing wins against some of Europe’s biggest sides. Has been a wonderful mentor to a potential Irish golden generation and would deserve a promotion. Certainly one of the most likely contenders for the under-21 post.
Got his first taste of managerial experience at ATK and could be the perfect fit for the Irish youngsters. Keane is said to be extremely tactically aware and given his knowledge, experience and standing within the game could be an ambitious appointment. Could do with an experienced mentor by his side but having played in Europe, internationally and at major tournaments, would offer the standard to what the Irish under-21s could strive or. Would be a very popular appointment amongst fans.
6. Sean O’Driscoll
The ex-Ireland and Fulham player is known for his attractive brand of football. In addition to several club posts including Brentford, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, the former defender was also assistant to Brendan Rogers at Liverpool. Has international management experience having taken charge of the England under-19s and is currently in the youth staff at Wolves.
Graham Kavanagh had his first taste of management during a tough spell at Carlisle. The former Ireland midfielder has worked his way up through his coaching badges and will be hungry for a new challenge. After 16 caps and one goal for Ireland, the man Aaron Ramsey often cites as his idol could be a good fit for the under-21s and could translate his leadership qualities as a player onto the managerial scene.
One of Ireland’s most decorated managers, there was a time when Pat Fenlon was tipped for the senior Ireland job. The former Bohemians and Shelbourne supremo has already experienced international management with Ireland having managed the short lived under-23 team made up of domestic players. Could be key to promoting the most talented League of Ireland youth which is important given the decreasing opportunities for Irish youngsters in England.
Having been out of work for a number of years, David O’Leary could emerge as a shock runner for the Irish under-21 post. The former Aston Villa and Leeds manager not only has Premier League experience but also 68 caps for his country. Could be suited to the role given the fact he has worked with and promoted youth during his managerial career and lit up the Champions League with a Leeds side consisting of youngsters he entrusted and developed, many of whom were Irish.
The ex-Reading manager of Irish descent is another with success at producing youth. Was tipped for the Ireland senior job in the past but has been out of work since the end of his second term as Royals boss in 2016. Worked as a scout for Arsenal and has an eye for spotting young talent which was also demonstrated at Reading where he brought several Irishmen to the club during the noughties.
Colin Bell has made waves with the Irish women and could follow a similar path to King who too held the position before taking charge of the under-21s. Bell served as assistant to Jurgen Klopp at Mainz and has won the women’s Champions League. The Englishman has five years of youth experience in Germany and also encourages an attractive style of football.
12. Jeff Kenna
One of the main men at the IMG Academy in the USA which produces some of the countries most talented players like Landon Donovan and Jose Altidore. Showed early promise as manager of Galway United and St.Pats before moving to the States and could be lined up for the under-21 job. A Premier League winner with Blackburn, Kenna won 27 caps for Ireland between 1995 and 1999.
This would certainly be an ambitious approach but Brian McClair could be an outstanding appointment for the Irish under-21 job. Formally Manchester United’s youth and then reserves coach, the former Scotland international has been tasked with developing some of the highest regarded youngsters in Britain. A former performance director for the Scottish FA, McClair already has experience within an international association.
2002 World Cup star Mark Kinsella has taken his first strides in management having overseen Drogheda United. Formally of Charlton, Aston Villa and West Brom, the 48 times capped Kinsella has acted as a coach under Noel King. During this spell, he has overseen his son Liam, who plays for League 1 side Walsall. Another ex-player who may deserve an opportunity to demonstrate his managerial credential.
Not only an all Ireland winner but now a highly rated soccer manager since switching codes. Jim McGuinness has made a name for himself as an intelligent coach and was on the books at Celtic. The Donegal man ended up in the high profile Chinese Super League with Beijing Sinobo Guoan and is the holder of a UEFA A licence. Might be a bit of an unusual appointment but given the regard he is held at as a coach, could be a shrewd choice if he is afforded the chance.