It feels like the same old story again: one step forwards and two steps back for Ireland. Having failed to win a competitive game in 12 attempts, with opportunities like home fixtures against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, Stephen Kenny is still the Republic of Ireland manager. Despite shocking results, there is plenty to debate about whether Stephen Kenny is the right man to take Irish football forward.
Irish Football’s Civil War Sees the Nation Divided Over Stephen Kenny
Jury Still Out on Kenny
This debate has caused a ‘civil war’ in the media’s coverage of the Ireland team. Embarrassing results have sharpened the knives of fans eager to see Kenny removed from his position.
There is desperation from some to see the Irish team become competitive in tournament qualification groups again quickly.
There is desperation from others to stick with a long-term plan that the ‘new’ FAI hopes can begin to repair the damage done to Irish football by the previous regime. Having brought success to Ireland’s U21 team, come through the League of Ireland, and shown ambition to bring young players into the setup, no one is more qualified to do this than Stephen Kenny.
After more encouraging developments and more disappointing results, where is Irish football and why is it so divided?
Deep Rooted Turmoil
Ireland’s manager no longer has stars like Roy Keane or Damien Duff to build a team around. Many of Ireland’s first-team squad play their football in England’s third tier. There has been a monumental fall from grace in the quality of players in recent years.
This is due to the horrific mismanagement of the FAI under John Delaney, which nearly bankrupted the organisation. The structures in Irish football are weak, and it has translated to the elite level. Azerbaijan (ranked 112th in the world) now enjoys the fruits of well-developed and funded academies that Ireland can only dream about.
Azerbaijan has an average of 26 full time employees per academy, Ireland has 0. Go figure. So important that we get things right.. pic.twitter.com/3RNVjM4Usn
— Andrew Dempsey (@AndrewDempsey98) September 4, 2021
The League of Ireland has received insufficient investment, and the development of elite youth prospects has essentially been outsourced to the United Kingdom. The globalisation of English football and changes to Immigration rules for academy footballers after Brexit mean this method is completely unsustainable.
The FAI has less talent, money, and reputation to attract quality managers. Neil Lennon is the favourite for the job should Stephen Kenny be sacked. Robbie Keane, who has just six weeks of management experience in the Indian Super League, was another reported candidate.
Keane was appointed to assist Mick McCarthy in coaching the Irish side in 2018 in a deal worth €250,000 per year. He lost his place among the coaching staff when Stephen Kenny took over but is still receiving this salary from the FAI. The organisation in massive debt is handing out huge wages to a coach that isn’t coaching the team, and he is one of the favourites to become the Irish team’s manager.
The problems lie deep.
How Long Can Stephen Kenny Last Without Winning?
While Kenny has faced incredible difficulties with injuries, COVID-19 issues within his squad, and bad luck in matches, results have been unacceptable.
For all the talk of increasingly attractive football and improved performances, Ireland has scored 11 goals in 16 matches in the Kenny era. Shane Duffy is the only player to have scored in multiple matches during this spell, and set-pieces still seem to be Ireland’s biggest goal-scoring threat.
The 49-year-old has received criticism for tactical decisions and poor performances. Respected voices in Irish football don’t see much potential in his tenure. Ireland’s world ranking and seeding in future qualification groups will get worse with each disappointing result.
"If ever a team got out of jail it was Ireland tonight. We got battered for 85 minutes.
"How Serbia didn't score another is down to poor finishing & the brilliance of Bazunu."
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) September 7, 2021
Most viewers of Irish football agree that the long-term planning, change of playing style and youth development the former Dundalk boss is trying to implement is necessary. Many fans believe they need to win some games along the way. If another manager can execute the vision of the FAI and win football games, why not replace the current boss?
What Does Ireland Expect?
Whether the glass is half full or half empty right now depends on what you expect from the Republic of Ireland team. An historic view is that Ireland should be able to finish above Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifying group. Ireland is on course to finish below the 96th ranked team in the world, and that vindicates change in some viewers’ opinion.
Others don’t expect Ireland to challenge in a World Cup qualification group right now – they want progression of the game in Ireland and a strategy to improve. Patience in the process and Stephen Kenny is necessary for this.
There are signs of progress – young players like Gavin Bazunu, Andrew Omobamidele, and Adam Idah look promising. Top international sides like Portugal and Serbia have struggled to dismantle Ireland as many expected them to. Better finishing and fortune could have seen them in contention for Qatar 2022.
There are clear green shoots, but still no flowers.
The 1-1 draw with Serbia closes this international window with Ireland fiercely arguing the never-ending debate about Stephen Kenny, the same way it was at the beginning. Expect more of the same next month.
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