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Kevin Kilbane: In 2014 Lee Carsley and I got a close-up view of how John Delaney’s FAI worked

Whoever the new Ireland manager is to be, the buck needs to stop with them as they immediately become the spokesman for Irish football

An old story revisited. Under the previous iteration of the Football Association of Ireland, the technical director Ruud Dokter approached two former Irish internationals at a Uefa coaching conference near Geneva in 2014.

I was one of them. Lee Carsley the other. We were doing our pro licenses through other organisations, I was up north with the IFA and Carsley with the Scottish FA.

Dokter wanted to gauge our interest in developing the next crop of underage talent. Neither of us approached the FAI, as the story was previously told.

We were keen, naturally, but sceptical after seeing how the FAI did business over the years.


Our doubts around the former chief executive John Delaney went back to a meeting with the players when Don Givens was caretaker manager before the Wales game in 2007. Steve Staunton’s time in charge had just ended after 17 games.

It quickly became apparent that Delaney was seeking our opinions on a new manager. This was before he secured the services of Giovanni Trapattoni. I spoke up to tell him that this meeting – CEO and senior squad – must not get into the public domain. Players should never be approached as a collective to pick a manager.

Fast forward to an invitation from Dokter for two young coaches with 150-combined-caps for their country to come to Dublin. I travelled over, Lee sensibly had his meeting on the phone.

“John wants to see you while you’re here,” said Dokter.


“We want to make an announcement later today.”

Announce what exactly, we have not discussed terms? A few details were forthcoming; there would be no salary.

My response: How do I earn a living? I’d a two-year agreement with the BBC, does that have to end for an unpaid internship?

Delaney came into the room. He wanted me to attend a “festival of football” down the country. We would be rolled out and paraded. I rejected the offer of working for free.

Ruud came back with the suggestion of some promotional work. “I want to coach,” I replied. Carsley got the same spiel. No thanks. Christ.

The FAI is a different organisation today than when all the outstanding debt was accumulated but its DNA cannot be erased. We know from the messy end to 2023 that old habits die hard.

That’s why it is vital to nail down certain guarantees in writing before agreeing to manage the Republic of Ireland. Clarity over the contract – as there will be break clauses after each qualification campaign – a clear bonus structure, and the make-up of the support staff is an absolute necessity.

Because once pen is put to paper, Marc Canham and Jonathan Hill will melt into the background as the new boss instantly becomes the spokesperson for Irish football both home and abroad.

That’s the way gig has always gone. Post-match chats with Tony O’Donoghue on RTÉ can tempt or dissuade sponsors. The pressure never subsides.

There is more to the role than qualifying for major tournaments. The FAI want Stephen Kenny’s replacement to introduce a style of play that becomes our identity as a football nation, with our teenage sides adopting a similar approach to the senior team.

In theory that’s fine. In the modern game, multiple systems are essential during a game. Carsley will thrive around the in-game tactical battles with other coaches. He outfoxed Spain to win the under-21 Euros last summer.

I know he understands the FAI plan. He has been central to implementing in England much of what Canham, Dokter’s successor, wants to see happen in Irish football.

Both men worked for the FA and Premier League over the last 10 years. Lee helped to implement the Premier League’s elite player performance plan since 2012, working hands-on at Tottenham, Arsenal, Aston Villa and other clubs. He put the protocols in place. He checked and rechecked that the systems were streamlined from club to club, even before Canham moved to the Premier League. He’s still a key figure in developing under-17 to under-23 squads in the English game.

That job requires the wearing of many hats. Mainly, he must identify kids with technical ability and the personality needed to carve out a 15-year career at the top end of football.

Marcus Rashford was the superstar in waiting but I know Carsley always felt Dominic Solanke would come good. He coached the coaches too.

This is precisely who the modern-day FAI want on staff. They cannot afford to micromanage how he fills the biggest role in Irish sport. Once appointed, the buck stops with the manager.

England and Ireland will land in the same Nations League group at next Thursday’s draw in Paris, won’t they? And Greece too. Back to Acropolis for the first away trip in September.

My first call as Ireland manager would be to Brian Kerr. Square the circle. Some of our big names never allowed Brian settle into the job between 2003 and 2005. He was cast away too soon, and far too ruthlessly, into a media wilderness. It’s been great for the public to hear his views but a desperately short-sighted move by those who used to run the game in Ireland.

Bring back The Greener as part of the technical team; a veteran managerial brain, a consigliere for the head coach, if you will.