It now seems like a lifetime ago when the Republic of Ireland’s peculiar managerial succession plan was conceived.
In November 2018, under pressure after Mick McCarthy’s appointment as Ireland manager was met with a lukewarm reception from a section of Irish soccer supporters, the FAI opted to try to keep everyone happy.
McCarthy would take charge of Ireland for the Euro 2020 campaign. Stephen Kenny would become Ireland Under-21 team manager and then take over as senior boss after Ireland’s involvement in the Euros came to an end. He said in his first press conference as Under-21 manager that he would take over as Ireland manager on August 1, 2020, that the agreement was in writing.
This convoluted plan, drawn up by the previous regime in the FAI, always had the potential to go awry, even if no-one could have foreseen a pandemic delaying the handover.
Covid-19 has laid waste to the best-made plans. So, Ireland’s curious managerial succession idea was bound to be affected by the sporting shutdown.
The Euros have been postponed until June 2021 and Ireland’s playoff against Slovakia has been tentatively set for the first week of June. Which means that, in theory, McCarthy could guide Ireland through the playoffs but not be the manager for the tournament next summer, as Kenny’s contract is due to commence on August 1.
Or McCarthy may not even be in charge for the playoff, which could potentially be pushed back until the end of the summer if it is not feasible to resume sport in June. There is also a chance that Ireland will fail to advance to the tournament next summer, and Kenny will take over in August as planned, anyway.
However, as with almost every aspect of life at the moment, these are uncertain times and no-one knows for sure what will happen. The new FAI interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn said last that the association would wait until the result of the playoffs before making any decision on who would be in charge of the national team at Euro 2021.
Yet, according to an Irish sports lawyer, the handover in the Ireland managerial succession plan is likely to be postponed due to the sporting shutdown.
According to Larry Fenelon, the parties involved in the situation – McCarthy, Kenny and the FAI – are likely to come to an agreement where the succession plan is deferred until after the Euros in 2021, despite Kenny’s contract due to commence on August 1. They are likely to vary their contracts. So, McCarthy’s tenure would continue until Ireland’s involvement in the European Championships concludes. And Kenny may have to wait a bit longer to be the senior Ireland boss.
“The problem is obviously that McCarthy’s contract is tournament-specific, but if that tournament is postponed it follows that his contract termination won’t occur until after that tournament,” Fenelon told Pundit Arena.
“The appropriate thing to do is, if the wording of his contract, of both contracts, Kenny and McCarthy’s contract, says that his ends after the Euros and the other starts after the Euros, well then there’s no real problem there.
“But if it’s time-specific, if his contract ends on whatever date the Euros ends on then it would need to be varied. If it’s tournament-specific, it’s no problem. If it’s time-specific, then the first port of call would be to vary the terms of the contract.
“A contract can only be amended with the consent of the contracting parties, so it has to be in writing,” Fenelon continued.
“So, if they did have to amend it, they would need the consent of both McCarthy and Kenny, they have two separate contracts and I can’t see either raising a fuss about it at all, quite frankly, given the circumstances. So, it’ll be quite an easy thing to achieve. I think that’s certainly the way around it, I can’t see it being a big problem.”
Kenny said in November 2018, at his first press conference as Under-21 manager, that on August 1 2020, he would succeed McCarthy as the Ireland senior team manager. The former Dundalk coach stressed that this wasn’t merely something he had shaken hands on. It was clearly stated in his contract. He had it “in writing.”
Yet, Fenelon says that, despite the terms of Kenny’s deal, the parties are more than likely to come to an agreement to allow McCarthy to finish out the Euros campaign, regardless of when it ends.
“Kenny can insist all he likes, but I think the reality is he’ll have to come to an accommodation and they’ll do it by agreement,” Fenelon said.
“You’re not going to start a legal dispute with the FAI over this, they are your paymasters, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you etc. I think there are practical consequences. Can you imagine what it would be like for one sitting manager and one future manager to be, I suppose, bringing the FAI to heel on contractual issues in extraordinary circumstances where the FAI now finds itself? I just don’t think it would be tolerated.
“I think the parties will have to come to an amicable resolution.”
“There might be negotiations over it, but I can’t see… If you look at it, legally, if Kenny said, ‘Now hold on here a minute, my contract says the first of August 2020, and that’s that, and you’re not fulfilling your terms…’ So, what can he do? Here’s what you can do, you can sue the FAI for specific performance of the contract, which means forcing them to fulfil the terms of the contract. ‘Kenny sues FAI’ as a headline?
“I can’t foresee that. I just don’t see that. So, people are going to huff and puff, but are they going to blow the house down?”
“Look at the reality of that, let’s say that the first of August is some date in the middle of the Euros, is one manager going to step down and another step up? No, there’s no reality to that,” Fenelon said.
“I think that’s how both parties’ lawyers will approach it with the FAI. They’ll say, ‘Look, there are matters beyond everyone’s control, unforeseeable, you can’t fulfil your terms, we can’t fulfil our terms with you until you’ve finished over here. So, what are we going to do, lads? We’re all going to amend the contract by consent and we’re all going to, not particularly like it, but we’re going to have to lump it.”
So, regardless of when McCarthy’s contract was due to end, and Kenny’s contract was due to begin, Fenelon believes that all parties are likely to agree to continue with the current plan.
Which means that should Ireland reach the Euros in 2021, it appears that McCarthy will most likely be the manager, and Kenny will take over following the tournament. Practical concerns could take precedence after an unprecedented period.