Good luck, Martin, or whoever gets the Ireland gig: it ain’t gonna be Woodstock, baby!
Martin O’Neill, or whoever gets the gig as next manager of the Irish football team, is going to get quite a lot of quids, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion that nothing else but perfection is going to keep the critics off his back once that initial burst of “new-era-fresh-start-everyone’s-shoulder-to-the-wheel” enthusiasm wears off. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
An old Irish Press colleague, the late Brian Featherstonhaugh, had an admirably straight-forward response to anyone ringing in complaining about mistakes in the paper.
“What do you expect for a quid?” he’d enquire, “f***ing perfection?”
Martin O’Neill or whoever gets the gig as next manager of the Irish football team is going to get quite a lot of quids, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion that nothing else but perfection is going to keep the critics off his back once that initial burst of “new-era-fresh-start-everyone’s-shoulder-to-the-wheel” enthusiasm wears off.
And wear off it will. There’s nothing surer.
In the last four decades of Irish football, Eoin Hand got shot down because he gave the players too much rein, and Jack Charlton didn’t give them enough: Charlton achieved, but not with style: Brian Kerr tried to provide a bit of style, and didn’t achieve: Mick McCarthy achieved, and with a little style too, but wound up vilified because he somehow objected to being called a “c***” by an attention-seeker incapable of diluting his hubris even a fraction.
So as gigs go, it is definitely more Altamont than Woodstock; more end of the dream than peace and love.
Of course any job in football management is almost invariably a race towards redundancy. But the Irish job in particular comes with its own particular layers of complexity, the most consistent of which is the yawning fault line between expectation and reality, a line that inexorably leads back to Irish football’s default-setting of whining disgruntlement.
Giovanni Trapattoni made plenty of mistakes during his tenure with Ireland. Apparently he didn’t go to see enough matches. He didn’t get them playing attractive football, rubbed a few players up the wrong way too.
He also didn’t show much regard for the opinions of various media “Yodas” cueing up the usual cod-psychology and tired jargon about stifled creativity, failure of ambition, yadda-yadda-yadda.
But what shouldn’t be forgotten in the midst of this new post-Trap enthusiasm is how he didn’t get everything wrong, and his instincts about the fundamental capabilities of the players at his disposal were especially a lot more right than Wes Hoolahan’s Lonely Hearts Club band will ever concede.
Stating the blatantly obvious limits of your team’s abilities might not be particularly “on-message” in terms of “paaasitive” motivation, but it at least had the virtue of sparing players and public the overwhelming PR-coated shinola that inflates reputations almost to the same degree as Irish football’s expectations.
The Ireland team that played Austria contained seven Premier League players. Good players too. But players so superior to Sweden and Austria that defeat should be regarded with angry indignation?