Martin O’Neill looks set to remain on as Ireland boss following his rejection of the Stoke City job.
The 65-year-old had verbally agreed to continue managing Ireland before the play-off defeat to Denmark. This brought worrying deja vu of Giovanni Trapattoni’s premature contract extension prior to Euro 2012.
O’Neill’s tenure as Ireland boss has been successful overall with Euro 2016 qualification wins against some top sides like Germany and Italy. However, the World Cup qualifiers showed that O’Neill may need to change tack in many ways if he is to take Ireland forward in what could be a transitional period.
Here we examine five things the Ireland manager should consider as he looks set to lead the Boys in Green for the foreseeable future.
5. Inject Some Youth Into The Side
One criticism of O’Neill, and his predecessor Trapattoni, was their overcautious approach when bringing young players through. Most countries, both at the high and low ends of international football are not afraid to promote youth if the player is good enough and it should be no different for Ireland.
The Irish have some genuinely exciting young players with the likes of Sean Maguire, Liam Kelly, Josh Cullen and Declan Rice all good enough to at least be given a crack in this year’s friendlies. With several players looking set to hang up their international boots and freshness needed, an injection of youth is exactly what O’Neill must consider.
4. Tie Down Declan Rice
As already mentioned, Declan Rice is one of Ireland’s most exciting prospects in years. Unlike many hyped up Irish youngsters in the past, Rice has enjoyed a rapid elevation into the West Ham first team, looking mature and assured. He has gradually improved with every game and is one of the Premier League’s most exciting young defenders, possessing a similar playing style to Eric Dier.
Despite still being quite raw, Rice already looks a better option than some of the defenders providing back up to Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy. Seems to be well and truly committed to the Irish cause but O’Neill needs to put any Jack Grealish-like frenzy to bed quickly.
3. Maximise Ireland’s Chances With Selections
Many fans feel that Ireland ‘don’t have the players’. A quick look around some of Europe’s teams would show that Ireland are not the only side lacking immense all round quality and this should not be used as an excuse. The likes of Iceland and Northern Ireland would confirm that notion, with less players to choose from but their best players are always fielded.
O’Neill has been guilty of not putting out his strongest possible XI at times, sometimes excluding the likes of Wes Hoolahan and other attack-minded players when Ireland need to have a go. Ireland do have talented attackers that are often overlooked by more physical players and this has limited the amount of chances they create. If Ireland are limited, this only limits them further and he should deploy teams that can have a go as well as sit back.
2. Consider Playing Three At The Back
Ireland’s most threatening two players on their day are arguably Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady. Both provide an attacking threat that Ireland sometimes lack. Although primarily a winger, some of Brady’s finest games for Ireland have come from left-back.
The opportunity of a three at the back with a Coleman-Brady combination providing the width is an exciting prospect. The 5-3-2 system allows for a blend of a crowded defence and potent attack and served O’Neill well at Leicester and Celtic. It could maximise and facilitate Ireland’s best attackers and its a surprise it has not been properly utilised by O’Neill yet.
1. Not To Be Restricted By Loyalty
Loyalty in football is dying, and it is refreshing to see O’Neill continue to show it in abundance. However, some of his selections in the past have been overly loyal with some players rewarded with starts despite being consistently under par for Ireland during the course of the World Cup qualifiers.
Some players who were in terrific form during the qualifiers were either ignored or not fully utilised with the same familiar faces constantly called upon regardless of their performances. The next campaign could see some of O’Neill’s favourites making way for the good of moving forward and he needs to be stronger with these decisions.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena