Sneering elitism leaves Ireland manager panel-beaten
Noel King’s short reign as Ireland manager came to a grubby end after his unseemly run-in with Eamon Dunphy
Noel King’s short reign as Ireland manager came to a grubby end after his unseemly run-in with Eamon Dunphy. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie
In the 1980s it was Frankie Goes to Hollywood who made many of us wonder what actually does happen when two tribes go to war. Holly Johnson’s conclusion that “a point is all that you can score” seemed cutesy in the context of the blood sport on RTÉ in the past week.
Eamon Dunphy’s tribe of imagined “real football people” eviscerated the qualifications of Noel King’s “real football people” in a contest where such claims were made to the grassroots of the game that both men ought to have had stains on their knees.
The phrase “real football people” should not be taken literally – it is code for “people who know what they are talking about”. When an upset King said to the press after Ireland’s loss in Germany that real football people would know his team did okay, he meant that the people working in domestic or League of Ireland soccer – his tribe – would understand the impossibility of his task in Cologne.
Dunphy’s tribe is more mysterious and less easily defined, but when he implied real football people (he uses the phrase a lot) would know King was “tactically illiterate”, he seemed to mean those who know what they are talking about like himself who played international soccer – sometimes brilliantly, like John Giles – for Ireland many years ago, and who now watch a lot of it on the box.
It was a play in two acts, culminating in King’s near-meltdown in the face of Tony O’Donoghue’s gentle questioning after Tuesday night’s win over Kazakhstan.
The interim manager was overly defensive after the criticism of four nights earlier, and sadly wore his hurt on his sleeve. It was not very dignified.
Real football people would have found it painful to watch a decent coach and popular man so exposed. In the studio Dunphy could not have looked more pleased. “I think he’s been shown to be out of his depth,” he cooed. The cat was in the sack.
‘Only a Game?’
The title of Dunphy’s classic diary of life as a professional footballer, Only a Game?, could also apply to the way his career as an analyst will be remembered. You do not have to be schooled in football to see how often Dunphy’s understanding of the game is overwhelmed by his dependency on the soundbites of showbusiness. The performance of pantomime villain is often fun to watch – when directed, for instance, at an Italian manager with a salary of €1.5 million and an unsurpassable track record – but King was entitled to believe that the rules of engagement for him would be different.