FAI have their ‘appropriate candidate’ in Lee Carsley - now the question is whether they can seal the deal

The president said there was no timeline to find a new manager despite CEO Jonathan Hill saying in December they ‘want someone working full-time’ in February

The FAI doing business at the FA training centre in St George’s Park near Burton-Upon-Trent last week may seem like overkill by Irish football’s English born and bred executives.

But in practical terms, it made sense. Lee Carsley lives nearby. He also works on site. As did the association’s director of football Marc Canham and CEO Jonathan Hill once upon a time.

What would have looked strange is another candidate slipping through the Hilton hotel lobby. St George’s Park is an isolated place, surrounded by lush green pitches, perfect for teams to prepare away from prying eyes. The Irish rugby team spent time there preparing for the 2015 World Cup.

It is worth noting that the FAI recruiters, Canham and Hill, have not uttered Carsley’s name in public. The only official line is that the process remains ongoing, although it has taken longer than anticipated.


Tuesday’s in-person board meeting in Abbotstown came and went without a fresh crisis. The new leaders, independent chairperson Tony Keohane and president Paul Cooke, an old hand at Irish football politics, were door-stepped following the directors’ four-hour sitting.

There was plenty to discuss before this month’s appearance at the Oireachtas’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC), when internal FAI emails about erroneous payments to Hill will be requested, and an update on Stephen Kenny’s successor.

“There’s no timeline at the moment,” said Cooke. “We will have a manager as soon as we identify the appropriate candidate, and they accept that role.”

In fact, there is a strict timeline. Hill said in December that they “definitely want someone working full-time” in February before Switzerland and Belgium come to Dublin in March.

The Irish Times understands that the initial salary offered to Carsley was significantly below what was expected but negotiations have not been scuppered, as the British media reported.

Before accepting a four-year contract from the FAI, the former Everton midfielder wants to be paid close to his market value. That falls somewhere around the figure a mid-tier EFL Championship manager can command, so €700,000 with results bonuses might cut the mustard.

Announcing Carsley before the Nations League ‘B’ draw in Paris on Thursday would help an embattled Hill to lift the siege before PAC.

The most profitable outcome is to draw England, along with Ukraine and Greece. The new coach might prefer Wales, Iceland and Kazakhstan but the association needs three box office fixtures at the Aviva stadium from September to November. England sells itself multiple times over while their is recent history with Ukraine and Greece.

“I tell the young players at Coventry that there is a way of losing,” Carsley told this reporter over 12 years ago. “Force the opposition to raise their game to beat you.”

That’s how the Kenny era fell asunder. Ireland slipped from 34th to 60th in the world rankings but it was how they capitulated against Armenia in 2022 and twice to Greece last year that counted against him.

Nobody expects Ireland to take one of the 16 European spots at North America 2026 but the third seeds need to become contenders again. At least make the play-offs. A possible lesson for the board from Kenny’s three years and 40 games in charge is the need to be ruthless if the Carsley/Canham plan comes unstuck.

Canham, as director of football, settled in north Dublin over a year ago. His position is secure as he implements a long-term vision that will be laid out in detail this month when his player pathways paper is published. But the new manager will report directly into him.

And there are still details that need ironing out. A standard break-clause after the 2026 World Cup qualification campaign seemingly slowed talks with Carsley.

Another potential stumbling block is the backroom for two reasons; budget and that the FAI want to keep their own employees involved. Carsley may want to bring in specific people. Paul Williams has coached under him several times over the years while Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole are his current England under 21 assistants. John O’Shea, having been Kenny’s fourth coach in two years, could come back into the fold having left Birmingham City after Wayne Rooney was sacked.

When the coaching career of Carsley, who turns 50 soon, is analysed it becomes apparent that Neil Lennon, the other name repeatedly mentioned, was never going to satisfy the FAI job spec.

The “appropriate candidate” has been identified.