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Kevin Kilbane: If John O’Shea becomes next Ireland manager, we know the recruitment process was a disaster

The next Ireland manager is interviewing the FAI, instead of the other way around

John O'Shea could not possibly be ready for the role of Republic of Ireland manager but he would be a better appointment than Gus Poyet, believes Kevin Kilbane. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

There are elements of the bluffer, and plenty of embarrassment, surrounding the FAI’s confidential, yet extremely public, search for a Republic of Ireland manager.

If Gus Poyet or John O’Shea are unveiled next week, or both, as head coach and assistant, then Jonathan Hill and Marc Canham will have some explaining to do.

There is a growing sense among Irish fans that the chief executive and director of football have shortchanged them during the process to replace Stephen Kenny.

Many people, me included, are beginning to fear the worst.


Working in the football media in North America, I get feedback from all around the world. Let me spell it out: Irish football, namely the FAI, is currently seen as a laughing stock.

A joke. Again.

Whoever is appointed, we can say with certainty that it was not the first person targeted by the recruitment trio of Canham, Hill and Packie Bonner.

Probably not the second either. Or third.

O’Shea and Poyet are not the issue. If the decision comes down to a young Irish coach with zero experience – until last week’s underwhelming outings against Belgium and Switzerland – or a Uruguayan journeyman with the gift of the gab, not much has changed since the John Delaney days.

If it’s someone nobody expects, well, we’ve seen that rabbit-out-of-the-hat routine before.

Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed Ireland manager in 2008 over Gerard Houllier and Terry Venables. But, as everyone in Ireland knows, that came down to a billionaire contributing to Trap’s salary.

Irish football cannot go back to those days – even if we wanted to – and hope to survive.

If FAI recruiters are not talking to Gus Poyet about becoming the long-term successor to Stephen Kenny, then they should say so. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

As ever, the ends justify the means; Ireland went to Euro 2012 under Trapattoni. It was a disaster but for a foreign manager, in any language, it was impressive on paper. Getting Ireland to a major tournament can only be deemed a success.

If reports are true, and Poyet is the primary target, he appears to be interviewing the FAI, and not the other way around. He might even have enough leverage to get his son, Diego, on the payroll.

The reports, if true, are depressing, but any manager would be mad to take this job without his own backroom in place.

If all the above is false, the FAI should have killed this story. Immediately.

Of course that’s not their style. Canham’s rhetoric is straight from a coaching-badges course. Confident proclamations. Vague assurances. Fake it until you make it.

The Irish public can smell a bullsh*t line from Colchester to Malahide. He needs to explain exactly what “existing contractual obligations” means or his position as director of football is untenable.

Enough ifs, buts, maybes. After such a drawn-out “professional” process, a big fish has to appear on the hook. If Willy Sagnol was the actual target last month, come clean, as this situation can still spiral out of control.

The bottom line is already being damaged. The Aviva Stadium housed 35,000 for the Switzerland game. The absent 15,000 heard Canham say that he “absolutely understands the responsibility” bestowed upon him to find a suitable manager. But they saw the FAI repeatedly pushing back the announcement date and stayed away from the Aviva.

The public also watched Hill’s embarrassing display before the Oireachtas committee. They heard his excuses around money he received instead of holidays and to cover weekly travel expenses to commute from his home in England.

This has damaged the association’s reputation, setting them back years, as they lost vital political capital.

The chief executive must explain his “perfect” email and he needs to defend Canham’s “robust” recruitment process, or both their positions are untenable.

The culture of Irish football cannot be digested on weekly flights in and out of Dublin. I learned this after moving over to work for Off The Ball. Only then did I begin to understand the politics, from grassroots into the League of Ireland.

Yet the solution to historic problems begins with the men’s senior team. That’s the moneymaker. And that is under threat.

If Canham unveils either Poyet or O’Shea, we can say with certainty that the process to identify and secure a new “head coach” – as the FAI have needlessly rebranded the role – was a complete disaster.

Eventually, they will have to explain themselves, having ducked and dived since June 2023, when it was clear to everyone that change was needed. Otherwise, Irish fans will wonder if the English football industry sold the FAI not one, but two pups.

FAI director of football Marc Canham and chief executive Jonathan Hill have a lot more explaining to do. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

What has become clear since November is that the shortlist of potential Ireland managers have been interviewing the FAI and not the other way around. In the room, away from prying eyes, where corporate-speak holds no value, the unholy trinity failed to deliver.

Why speak to Roy Keane three times? To what end? Why does the manager need to relocate to Ireland, as the players are mainly at English clubs or further afield?

If these stories are untrue, come out and say so.

And enough of this “head coach” guff. The national “gaffer” became a joke term during my playing days when we learned the hard way that the role demands a multi-skilled operator. “On the grass” coaching, as Canham describes it, is only half the job.

It is now legitimate to ask whether Hill and Canham were ever qualified to complete this task. The recruitment of an Ireland manager has always been a treacherous endeavour, where the FAI must deal with wily candidates and shrewd agents.

Is anyone else finding it hard to differentiate between Hill and those who ran Irish football from the Merrion Square days to early Abbotstown?

Look at the GAA and the IRFU, where administrators operate in a low-key, efficient manner. When called before the politicians there are no gimmicks, no redacted emails, just plain truths.

If push comes to shove, the FAI should appoint O’Shea, and not Poyet.

For John, it’s a chance to launch a sustained period in management. For Poyet, it’s one of the last stops in a mediocre career.

O’Shea cannot possibly be ready for the enormity of the role, yet he has the demeanour, the backroom staff and hopefully enough experience as a player to carry the torch.