Ireland’s away defeat to Scotland marks the twelfth game of Martin O’Neill’s tenure. How are the current management team stacking up in comparison to the first twelve games of O’Neill’s last two predecessors; Steve Staunton and Giovanni Trappatoni?
The abiding memories of Staunton and Trapattoni’s tenures at Ireland are sour. For Staunton, he was simply a man out of his depth entrusted with too much too soon. Trapattoni meanwhile will be remembered for stubbornness and capitulation at the Euros, which clouds the superb qualifying campaign he led Ireland on. Even Staunton managed, albeit temporarily to evoke the possibility of of a European Championship appearance.
Our recollection of the past imposes a narrative that is perhaps unfairly harsh or unnecessarily kind on managers depending on where exactly they and their team ended up at the end of it all. So let’s rewind the clocks to twelve games in under Staunton and Trapattoni and compare that to O’Neill’s tenure so far. How are the management team shaping up compared to those who have gone before them?
“I’m the boss. I’m the gaffer. At the end of the day what I say goes, the buck stops with me…”
When you fire that line out on your appointment as Republic of Ireland Manager you’re going to want a good start on the pitch. That was exactly what Steve Staunton got when his side took on Sweden in a friendly at the old Lansdowne Road. Ireland ran out winners by three goals to nil against a talented Swedish team. The “dream start” as Staunton called it lasted all of that ninety minutes.
What followed consisted of four straight defeats, two of those coming in qualifying games against Germany and an embarrassing 5-2 defeat to Cyprus. To Staunton’s credit he stopped the rot after that, picking up a draw with the Czech Republic, and home and away wins against San Marino. He would lose to Wales and beat Slovakia in qualifying before two friendly draws with Germany and Cyprus.
Form after 12 games
Won four. Drew three. Lost five.
“I’m no Saint Giovanni. I cannot win always but I love my job.”
That’s what the Italian told the Late Late Show in 2010. Appointed in 2008, his first twelve games hadn’t set the world alight but they were solid performances. His first three games were a draw-win-draw in Friendlies against Serbia, Colombia and Norway respectively.
What followed was seven World Cup qualifiers punctuated by two friendlies. Trapattoni picked up three wins in those qualifiers; two against Georgia and one against Cyprus. The other four matches ended in either goalless or one all draws to Montenegro, Bulgaria (twice) and Italy.
Form after 12 games
Won four. Drew seven. Lost one.
“You obviously don’t know Martin as well as you think you do. He makes me look like Mother Teresa.”
Roy Keane set the record straight upon his unveiling as assistant manager to current boss Martin O’Neill. Has an Irish Management mean team ever been as focused on the manager and his assistant as this pair?
Not that this writer can recall. It’s been a hit-and-miss start so far in O’Neill’s first twelve games. O’Neill went through eight friendlies before managing a competitive match. In those games they recorded only two wins, against Latvia and Oman. Three draws against respectable opposition in Germany and Italy as well as the summer’s World Cup wildcard – Costa Rica.
Their form in those friendlies has, perhaps made the current qualifying campaign so far all the more impressive. Two wins, a heroic draw against Germany and that loss to Scotland.
Form after 12 games
Won four. Drawn four. Lost four.
Who enjoyed the best start?
Each manager claimed four wins from their opening twelve games giving all an overall win percentage of 33%. However, Trapattoni undoubtedly takes it if one is simply looking at points return on the twelve games, regardless of whether the match was a competitive fixture or not. The Italian recorded only one loss in that impressive start to his tenure.
O’Neill’s and Staunton’s starts are not too dissimilar. Staunton lost one more than O’Neill. Perhaps examining them just on return over twelve games does not tell the whole picture. Friendly wins count for nothing and international fixtures are so spread out they rarely contribute to maintaining any sort of form. Instead, lets look at win percentages for competitive fixtures only.
Staunton won 42% of his first seven competitive fixtures. Trapattoni also racked up a 42% win rate, however, importantly his side didn’t lose compared to Staunton’s who did so three times. O’Neill leads the pack with a win rate of 50% in competitive fixtures. However, O’Neill has played three less competitive fixtures than his counter-parts had at this point in their reigns.
Points earned per competitive fixture indicates the average amount of points each manager picked up in their qualifying matches only. Staunton racked up 1.42 points per competitive fixture. Trap earns himself 1.86 points per game. Meanwhile O’Neill claims 1.75 points per game.
In the two extremes of great starts (Trapattoni) and poor starts (Staunton) O’Neill rests uncomfortably in between. Trapattoni had an undoubtedly superior start to his counterparts and still missed out on a tournament first time around. O’Neill needs to maintain his superior record in competitive fixtures if the Euro 2016 dream is to survive.
Sean Curtin, Pundit Arena.