Stephen Kenny has had just one week to work with his new team. Some perspective is badly needed.
On this day in 2018, the Republic of Ireland lost 4-1 to Wales in Cardiff in their first Uefa Nations League tie.
Martin O’Neill’s side were utterly hopeless and cut apart at will by Wales. It was another low point in a tenure that should have ended following the 5-1 defeat to Denmark the previous November in the World Cup playoff.
It is worth keeping those two results and performances in mind before making any definitive judgements on Ireland’s first home game under Stephen Kenny. There is a long way to go.
Perspective needed on Stephen Kenny and Ireland
Ireland lost 1-0 to Finland in the Uefa Nations League tie on Sunday. A disappointing defeat, of course. But people need to have some perspective before rushing to any snap judgements about Kenny or the team’s ability to play in a more proactive manner.
Firstly, Stephen Kenny has only worked with his new team for a few days. Secondly, it is still pre-season for the players, the new league campaign doesn’t get underway for another week. It was completely unrealistic to expect a cohesive team playing at the peak of their fitness and sharpness at this stage of the year.
Thirdly, and most importantly, Ireland are attempting to play in a completely different way. The result on Sunday doesn’t mean they cannot play in a proactive, modern way. It just means they need time to get better at it.
One defeat against Finland shouldn’t be cause to rip up everything and start again or go back to the bad old days. Yet again, perspective is needed.
Style of play
Kenny is the first Ireland manager since Jack Charlton who is attempting to get his team to play in a clearly defined way. The rest – from Mick McCarthy to Martin O’Neill – never attempted to get the team to play in any style.
Roy Keane dragged Ireland to the 2002 World Cup. If Ireland played passing football under McCarthy during his first reign, it was because his captain was demanding the ball. McCarthy was merely in the sidecar. It was Keane’s team.
O’Neill simply told his players to get on with it. He infused the team with emotional energy for big matches. But there was never any discernible style of play.
Kenny, like Charlton, wants Ireland to play in a certain way. He picks players based on their attributes and how they fit into his team. He needs time to implement his ideas and his players need time to adapt.
To make definitive judgements on either on the basis of one game, when the team is at the start of a new cycle, is nonsensical.
A new way is needed
It is also worth bearing in mind that Ireland weren’t winning games before Kenny. He is not Brian Clough going into Leeds United and telling his new players to toss their medals in the bin. He is not joining Barcelona and asking them to lump the ball forward.
Kenny is simply asking an average international team, who have not been successful in recent years, to play in a different way than they previously have. That’s it. It will take time and patience.
Yet, there were still some following the Finland game saying Ireland should, ‘play to their strengths.’ This usually means they should hoof the ball long.
Ireland have been playing to their strengths for the last 20 years and longer and it has rarely worked. In the last two years, the national team have only beaten Gibraltar and Georgia in competitive games.
If Ireland are ever going to improve, they need to change and evolve. Kenny’s side will improve and there is a bright crop of young players coming through. The team will get better.
In the meantime, they need patience and perspective, not snap judgements.