Noel King’s brief reign more than a passing phase
Interim boss delighted team has taken first steps towards modern passing game
The Ireland team has taken its first small steps towards playing a new, more modern brand of “European football,” according to Noel King, who was in high spirits yesterday after finishing his two game stand-in stint as senior international manager.
“I think what the players have done (during the past 10 days) is an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve changed the system, put an emphasis more on the passing game, and you have to accept flaws if you want to change something, you just look to make sure that the skill set gets better over time.
“But really, to turn it around and put in a decent performance against Germany and a decent performance against Kazakhstan, which it was (is hugely impressive). Were there errors and flaws? Absolutely. But the players know that and they didn’t do it on purpose, just as I didn’t make my mistakes on purpose. That’s just the nature of the game; it happened.
“The reality is you can’t just click in 10 days and become a team like Germany, who are at it years and have invested fortunes in it,” he said.
“If we’re going to play a passing game then we have to accept that we might give the ball away sometimes but if we do that and the crowd turn on the team then that would be a big negative, so there has to be a bit of education about the system.
“Jack Charlton had a very clear, set way he wanted to play; people argued against it, people argued for it, but they understood it. Giovanni had his way of playing too and while people didn’t like it sometimes, they understood it too.
“But people say Germany had 70 or 75 per cent of the ball and don’t realise that in a tactical game, we didn’t compete for the ball. They made seven, eight, nine passes that we allowed them to make and our hope was they would get sloppy, lose concentration and we would win it back and counter, which is what we did.
“That part of the game needs to be discussed and if people want to argue about how much value is in the approach then I have no issue with that, but I thought it was very good.
“Anyway, the point is: let’s talk about football, let’s talk about the quality of players, let’s talk about systems . . . proper stuff.”
King admitted he was relieved his team came out on top against Kazakhstan, with victory likely to ensure Ireland are second seeds for the qualifying stages of the next European Championship. The ranking is set to decline rapidly after that unless results improve as the play-off and finals tournament participation of earlier Trapattoni campaigns are discarded from the calculations.
“We were all aware of it but the other results went well and Romania have to win two games. The boys are delighted. That was a key match and you would have told me if it had gone wrong just how key it was. I would have had to have put my hand up and say ‘dud’.
“But to be a second seed is incredible. That could be worth a lot of money to the association and it could be worth a lot of other football days for us; it could mean qualification for us as two teams go though, which would be massive.
We were aware of it but it wasn’t to the forefront as I just wanted to get a performance from the players. But, yes, we were all scared.”
His cause may not have been helped by sniping by players left out but King said he sympathised with Shane Long and James McClean despite the former having tweeted “cowboy”, apparently about him, 90 minutes before kick-off and the latter having retweeted it.
“It’s not something anyone would welcome but it’s understandable,” he said. “He (Long) come here, he’s given up his time, he’s left his family, he’s done all of that sort of stuff, he’s done the bits of training but then he’s left out in both games, he didn’t get a kick of the ball. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to be doing a jig.
“I’d expect him to be upset. Anything else would be unprofessional. If he lost his rag and said something, ‘cowboy’, I’ve no difficulty with that.”
It is, of course, difficult to imagine him being so understanding if he was in the position of having to maintain discipline and protect his standing amongst the players on an ongoing basis.
King, though, while he didn’t rule it out, didn’t sound like a man who reckoned it would be his problem next month.
He said he would be ready if called upon again and would keep an eye on the senior players as well as the under-21 ones until the situation was clarified but he expects the next man to be more than capable of handling himself with regard to both the players and the critics.
As for himself, he said: “It’s been terrific, two and half weeks of madness, bedlam, excitement, and football, football, football – but that’s my life, it always has been my life. And the next two and half weeks will be football, football, football too, just not in the public eye.”