Noel King sets the bar high for Cologne challenge but is determined to reach it
Pushed on what he is aiming for from his two games in charge, the Republic of Ireland interim manager is clear: “Two wins”
Andy Reid and Wes Hoolahan train with the rest of the Republic of Ireland squad at Gannon Park in Malahide yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Noel King’s new broom was in full swing yesterday in Malahide, where the end-of-session seven-a-side was a little more disjointed than the players had grown used to over the latter part of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign.
Barely a minute seemed to pass without the Dubliner stopping things and doling out instructions, with Darron Gibson, Andy Reid and Anthony Stokes amongst those on the receiving end.
For once the manager’s message was entirely clear even if it may not have been completely welcome, with King telling his squad as they stood and stared that they have a lot of work to do “between this and Friday night”.
Afterwards he seemed more than happy with the way it had all gone. “It’s great,” he said with a broad smile and a voice that suggested he was filled to the brim with nervous energy. “A great first time to be with the boys and, while obviously you’d be a little bit nervous starting off, I think it went okay.”
It’s not, of course, a first encounter for the interim manager and the bulk of the squad he has assembled. King goes back in one way or another with more than half of the players. He handed Wes Hoolahan his full debut for Shelbourne he reckons and worked extensively with the likes of Séamus Coleman and Anthony Stokes at under-21 level.
What’s somewhat less familiar to the 57-year-old is the scale of the challenge on Friday night. His under-21 side came off the wrong side of a game against the Germans last month, when the 40-plus technical staff that travelled to Ireland for the game provided a sense of the resources that had gone into producing a 4-0 win.
Just as high
In Cologne the bar will be set just as high, but King insists that that’s okay with him: “It’s a massive challenge,” he says cheerily, “but I’m looking forward to it.”
Pushed on what he is aiming for from his two games in charge, he is clear: “Two wins,” he says. “But you have to . . . you have to. If you set your stall out and just defend, defend, defend, eventually you’ll get caught. We can’t do that.”
The Dubliner’s assessment of the task that awaits is pretty straightforward: “We need to be able to defend, we need to be able to attack,” he says with a laugh.
“We need to be able to counter-attack and we need to be able to defend counter-attacks; that’s international football.”
Pushed on what tactics he might employ in order to pull it off, he is coy until he eventually looks to joke his way out of a corner: “We’ll play in a swarm,” he says with a grin that in no way seems to acknowledge that the Germans might just have the deadlier sting.
In case that might be taken for granted, though, he cites last year’s under-21 win over Italy . . . away. “I discussed that today with Ruud (Dokter); we had nine men against Italy and what was the score? Four - two to us . . . with nine men.
“So football is fantastic and that’s why there will be 50,000 or 60,000 in Cologne on Friday because of these things that can happen. Now, that is not to build us up and be stupid about things. But that can happen and it would be lovely if it happened to us, would it not?”
Damien Delaney, Aiden McGeady, Stephen Henderson, Kevin Doyle and Ciarán Clarke all sat out the latter part of yesterday’s session, but King expects to have all 23 players available to him in Cologne on Friday night.
Joachim Löw, on the other hand, looks set to be without another couple of his more familiar faces. The German coach was already having to plan without the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez but he has now lost Marco Reus and the Bender brothers, Lars and Sven.
Reus withdrew for the squad after tearing ligaments while playing for Borussia Dortmund against Borussia Monchengladbach while his team-mate, Sven Bender, has a muscle strain. Lars, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, pulled a muscle in the club’s 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich.
So far, just one player, 30 year-old midfielder Heiko Westermann of Hamburg, has been called in by the Germans, who in addition to Ireland face Sweden next Tuesday, with two points required from the two games to be sure of Group C’s top spot.