FAI director of football Marc Canham faces endemic problems. He has yet to convince he’s the man to solve them

In February he launched an ambitious plan, but it’s far from clear he can implement it. And the Republic of Ireland men’s team still don’t have a permanent manager

FAI director of football Marc Canham. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Marc Canham’s first test as the FAI director of football came during the women’s World Cup in Australia last summer.

Few people in Irish football came out of that experience in credit. When the former Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw accused him and the since departed FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill of interfering in “technical football matters” after Canham began his tournament review while still in Brisbane, he was forced into the light to explain himself.

“First of all, nice to meet you all,” said Canham last September. “I know I’ve been in the role for 12 months ... I’m responsible for all international teams, men’s and women’s, all of the underage teams from 15s to seniors. It was absolutely appropriate, because of my responsibility, for me to conduct that review.”

Pauw vehemently disagrees, but it did make logistical sense for Canham to speak to staff and players before the group went their separate ways.


It was also instructive to learn that Pauw’s wish for a pre-tournament warm-up against Colombia to be abandoned in the first half, following some tasty challenges, was not decided by the pitchside director of football, but by Hill from his desk somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

In June 2022, Canham saw off John Morling and the current Bohemians director of football Pat Fenlon for what has become a massive undertaking. Morling seemed certain to be appointed, having cut his teeth in coaching with Brian Kerr’s Irish underage sides for seven years before mentoring Evan Ferguson, Aaron Connolly and Andy Moran in the Brighton and Hove Albion academy.

Instead, Morling got a 12-month consultancy contract as Hill choose the Premier League director of coaching, a position Canham had only held for 12 months.

“I am, along with my family, thrilled to be moving to Ireland,” he said in a press release that noted how “instrumental” he was in the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which increased the number of English players at the top English clubs.

Director of Football Marc Canham at the launch of the football pathways plan in February. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ged Roddy, who was Canham’s manager for six years at non-league “Team Bath”, is credited with designing and delivering the EPPP. Roddy now works for Fifa.

There followed a year-long media blackout as the former England futsal international connected, in many cases via WhatsApp’s voice notes, with multiple strands of Irish football.

Meanwhile, Morling is away learning Cantonese as Hong Kong’s technical director, a football landscape he describes as having “similar obstacles” to the game as in Ireland.

Informal interactions with Canham reveal a confident operator, albeit one that started with little initial knowledge of this country’s illogical sporting landscape. On the record, the 41-year-old has a tendency to revert to corporate jargon.

Two enormous tasks remain on Canham’s desk. Firstly, implementing his ambitious player pathways programme (PPP) that was published in February 2024, by which point the director of football was struggling to explain the farcical process to appoint a manager to the men’s team.

Canham assured the assembled media at the pathways launch that Stephen Kenny’s successor would be unveiled in “early April”. There could be no misinterpretation, he had his man but “existing contractual obligations” temporarily stalled the unveiling.

“We are getting closer,” he said, calling his own work “confidential, robust, diligent and professional”.

“We are following a very similar process to the appointment of a women’s head coach, a similar timeline”.

Following “extensive interviews” with 12 candidates, Canham required 15 weeks before interim woman’s manager Eileen Gleeson was given an 18-month contract in December.

Marc Canham with Eileen Gleeson after she was confirmed as the Republic of Ireland women's team head coach in December 2023. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

We now know that 15 weeks will be stretched to at least eight months for the men’s job.

“Canham’s rhetoric is straight from a coaching-badges course,” wrote Kevin Kilbane. “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 whatexisting contractual obligations’ means or his position as director of football is untenable.

“It is now legitimate to ask whether Hill and Canham were ever qualified to complete this task.”

PR firm Teneo remain on the FAI payroll as they attempt to untangle this ongoing disaster.

Also in February, Canham went on a tour of the provinces, holding four public meetings to sell his 12-year pathways plan that would reshape the entire sport into a “pyramid system”. Impressive, broad brushstrokes were plentiful but when it came to details, he struggled to answer the questions put to him.

Hill parted company with the association in April, just before his DoF cancelled a media briefing to explain the stalled managerial search. Instead, Canham opted for an in-house interview with FAI communications staffer Cathal Dervan, where he apologised for setting three unattainable deadlines before promising that a “head coach” will be in place before England come to Dublin on September 7th.

Canham’s YouTube appearance made him the focus of social media ridicule. He publicly offered John O’Shea the interim manager’s gig for June friendlies against Hungary and Portugal, without confirming as much with the former Manchester United defender, which gave O’Shea leverage in negotiations.

Marc Canham publicly offered John O'Shea the role of interim head coach of the Republic of Ireland men's team in a YouTube video. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

It begged the question (put to the FAI): what experience does Canham have in the recruitment of football managers, besides hiring two interim Irish “head coaches” who were not considered in the initial interview process?

No specific examples were supplied to The Irish Times.

Canham was head of coaching at the Bristol City academy for eight months in 2013, having spent five years at the English FA as a “skills coach” and “team leader”, before nine years at the Premier League, where he was responsible for “strategic and operational coaching matters”.

It has been established that four potential Ireland managers – Lee Carsley, Anthony Barry, Gus Poyet and Chris Hughton – met the since disbanded FAI recruitment team of Canham, Hill and Packie Bonner.

In the room, when it really mattered, no deal was struck.

The issues that confront Canham are widespread and endemic. Any form of success in the 2020s may be impossible. His Dutch predecessors, Ruud Dokter and Wim Koevermans, laid some foundations over 13 years before their philosophies appeared to clash with Irish cultural norms. Dokter called for soccer specialisation from age 12.

Canham appears to understand that an English solution to an Irish problem will never take hold. The construction of a sustainable, education-based academy system is supposed to be his area of expertise.

“We cannot continue doing what we are currently doing,” he said. “Croatia and Belgium are good examples of similar-sized populations and similar infrastructures that should give us the excitement and the ambition – ‘Well, if they can achieve something, what can we achieve?’”

Maybe so, but the domestic game continues to operate with 24 club academies and volunteer coaches. Croatia have 10 academies and 190 employees. Belgium have 264 staff running 16 centres of excellence.

When asked how the PPP can be rolled out, Canham spoke about robbing Peter to pay Paul: “As we move forward with the pathways plan we are going to have to make some tough decisions. There are some things we might have to stop to turn something else on.”

FAI Football Pathways Plan Media Briefing, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 20/2/2024 Director of Football Marc Canham Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Shane Robinson is a smart choice as the assistant director of football, mainly because the former Shamrock Rovers academy chief understands the swamp politics of Irish football. Recently, Robinson pointed to the IRFU system as a “perfect model” that is staring the FAI in the face.

Comparing Canham to David Nucifora, and what the tough Australian achieved in the equivalent rugby role these past 10 years, falls flat when ready-made academies in fee-charging primary and secondary schools are properly examined. Canham was surprised after taking over that a similar system doesn’t exist for football in Ireland.

Also, with the flick of a pen, Nucifora could defund a professional province that refused to follow orders.

Canham will never possess such powers. But right now, due to his actions or lack thereof, he is at the mercy of the likes of Roddy Collins labelling him “a world class operator of a PowerPoint presentation.”

That’s not all he is, of course, but that’s all the public really knows of him, two years into a 12-year project that demands incremental, yet substantive results.