Ok. I know. You’ve read the headline and thought to yourself “Jesus, that’s a bit strong isn’t it?” It’s the usual tactic. I think “click-bait” is what it’s pejoratively referred to in the media industry.
It’s Conor McGregor saying he’s going to kill his next opponent. It’s Arsenal being tipped to buy a top striker (yeah, right). It’s Katie Price having cellulite and now her fifth husband is about to leave her. It’s a ridiculous headline that newspapers/websites use, in order to garner attention and get people looking at their stuff. So maybe it is that. Except maybe, of course, it isn’t.
So we’re all feeling pretty good about ourselves aren’t we? We’ve been to the Euros and thankfully, Belgium aside, we didn’t manage to humiliate ourselves this time. We’ve just secured a creditable away draw against Serbia (we’ll ignore the performance shall we?). We’ve got the dream team managerial combination of MON/Keano at the helm.
So everything’s looking fine and rosy in the garden until you have a brief look at Martin O’Neill’s contract situation. Unsigned. And you’re thinking “Why would he do this to me? I thought he said he loved me?” So you confront him and he’s Mister Cool. “Relax” says Martin. “I’m in no hurry. I’m not going anywhere baby. We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds….” So Martin loves us and says he’s never going to leave us. Great. We love him too. But just suppose…
Just suppose, oh, I don’t know, Sunderland came around in the next few weeks and said: “Martin, we should never have got rid of you. We want you back. I mean, Di Canio? Moyes? Jesus, what the hell were we thinking?” What does Martin say then? Is he “Aw shucks guys, but I’m really happy with what I’ve got at the moment and I don’t want to leave” or is he, as I suspect, desperate for one last spin on the Premier League merry go round?
So just say, just say, O’Neill turns around and says “John, it was nice knowing you, but I’ve got to love you and leave you. Thanks for the cheese. Oh, and by the way, what was the story with the whole ticket thing?” What do we do then? Who do we turn to?
Well, Roy Keane obviously. He’s already there, he knows the players, he’s a legend in Irish football. All true of course, except, have you really been convinced by Roy Keane as a manager? I mean Sunderland was good… at the beginning. Ipswich was a bit of a disaster. And, let’s be honest, his man-management style may not exactly be the most appealing to players. His ITV analysis is enough to let you know that he’s not exactly the arm-around-the-shoulder type.
Now I can’t say I’m privy to what goes on behind closed doors in the Irish football camp. Maybe the players love Roy Keane. Maybe they want him as their next manager. But whereas O’Neill has had a long and respected career in football management, the same cannot necessarily be said of Roy the boy. Appointing him is a shot in the dark. And anybody who read his autobiography will know, whatever contract he signs, it will not come cheap.
So who else have you got: Chris Hughton? A good shout for sure, but would he take it? Does he crave the international management scene over the day-to-day involvement? Mick McCarthy too. He’s hinted he would like another craic at the Irish job, and maybe he’s the right age for it to happen. So maybe Mick. Or maybe…
It’s fair to say you’d be down to around the fourth or fifth option before Stephen Kenny’s name would crop up. And you could argue there are good reasons for that. He’s not an Irish international legend. He’s not managed at the highest level. He had a stint at Dunfermline in Scotland and it didn’t go brilliantly. And we’ve tried the manager from the local scene before with Brian Kerr and it didn’t really work out. Although, you could say he should have been given more time.
The fact that Stephen Kenny is a relative nobody in world football should not obscure the fact the job he has done at Dundalk has been little short of miraculous. I mean, this was a team that a few years ago played in the second tier of the League of Ireland. Under his stewardship, they have progressed to being serial winners of the league and they’ve also managed to perform admirably in Europe.
Kenny has had a long managerial career in Ireland and it’s been overflowing with success. He did fantastically at Longford Town, nearly won the league at Derry and did manage to win it with Bohemians. And that’s even before we get to discuss Dundalk.
Of course, you could say that the step up from the League of Ireland to international football is too great. Well possibly, but it didn’t seem to do Michael O’Neill any harm did it? This is a guy who topped the qualifying group as Northern Ireland boss and got them to the second round of the Euros, yet his previous managerial experience was Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers?
Stephen Kenny has already managed to surpass Michael O’Neill’s achievements in Europe by getting a point in the Europa league qualifying campaign. To beat BATE Borisov, a side with plenty of Champions League experience, was nigh on incredible. Their draw against AZ Alkmaar this week, considering they were down to ten men and away from home, is really hard to credit. And he’s done it on a salary that Roy Keane and co. would turn up their nose at.
Now again, all of this is pie in the sky. Perhaps Martin O’Neill will sign another contract for god knows how many years and we’ll all be happy. Maybe Roy or Mick or Chris will have first dibs on the job whenever it’s going in future, and that may be fair enough. But maybe John Delaney could do worse than look towards a solution from his “difficult child” league. Because who knows, maybe Stephen Kenny could solve a difficulty for John.
Mark Townsend, Pundit Arena