Former players remain unconvinced by Stephen Kenny’s footballing philosophy

Republic of Ireland boss needs to start producing results to convince the sceptics

Stephen Kenny: ‘I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the Azerbaijan game. If we do end up finishing bottom of the group it is a tough sell for Stephen,’ said Virgin media analyst and former international Damien Delaney.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Stephen Kenny: ‘I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the Azerbaijan game. If we do end up finishing bottom of the group it is a tough sell for Stephen,’ said Virgin media analyst and former international Damien Delaney. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Patience as a virtue is being tested to the limit during Stephen Kenny’s first 16 games as Republic of Ireland manager.

“With Stephen Kenny I just see an idea and the idea is so perfect that there is no debate,” said Tony Cascarino, voicing a view held by many former Irish internationals born or living in England. “I don’t like that idea,” the-88 times capped striker told The Sunday Times.

“After the Azerbaijan game, I said on Irish radio that I would play Shane Duffy at centre forward,” said big Cas. “I expected people to say I was an idiot, but I was shocked by how many people thought ‘Yeah that is actually a good reason, we do look like scoring.’”

Cascarino was hoping Kenny could “bridge the gulf” between managing Dundalk and the Ireland under-21s to “somehow find a way with the senior team”. He could have added that this bridge, despite being constructed during a pandemic, needs finishing within one World Cup qualification campaign.

“Every conversation I have with an ex-player or Ireland fan is about how bad we are and there is now a risk of our better players choosing not to play for us,” said Cascarino after the defeat to Luxembourg.

Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Patrick Bamford are visible proof that the current generation of Irish players born in England have already rejected an international journey similar to the one chosen by Cascarino, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and numerous others.

The ex-internationals, who are paid for their opinion, tend to cherry pick the “results business” messaging, all the while refusing to understand ever-widening fault lines in Irish football that are slowly being mended by FAI ceo Jonathan Hill and a brand new board of directors.

In reaction to Nottingham Forest sacking Chris Hughton, Stephen Carr deemed his fellow Spurs full back a “top, top bloke” who is “suitable” for Kenny’s job.

“It is not going to be very open football under Chris, though in his defence it was at Newcastle,” said Carr. “It’s what team you have – you play to your strengths.”

After Gavin Bazunu’s heroics secured a fortuitous 1-1 draw against Serbia, Sky Sports turned to Jon Walters and Clinton Morrison. Both these former Ireland centre forwards embraced a negative perspective in contrast to measured reaction on RTÉ by Richie Sadlier, Stephen Kelly and Liam Brady.

Cave painting

“There is a right time to play it out,” said Walters of efforts to exist on the same technical level as the Serbs. “I am getting told we are doing this and that, I am still not seeing it.”

Morrison went further, sketching a cave painting of Ireland’s future: “We know we are a threat from set pieces – everyone knows that – so why change it? Get the ball up front, cause problems, get it out to the wide men and get balls into the box.”

Presumably for Shane Duffy and strike partner John Egan to score. International football is about results, the pair stressed, firm in their belief that this version of punditry is believable. Nevertheless, it continues to be the general consensus coming from players capped by Mick McCarthy, especially those who spent most of their lives raising families in England.

There was more short-term-ism from Richard Dunne, writing in The Irish Independent after Azerbaijan and before Serbia: “If this run of results was Giovanni Trapattoni’s first 15 games in charge, people would want him out the door.”

Dunne went to Euro 2012 under Trapattoni, a tournament remembered for humiliating defeats to Croatia (3-1), Spain (4-0), Italy (2-0) and the drunken antics, preserved forever on Youtube, of the FAI’s former chief executive John Delaney.

Barry Prenderville, who runs the soccer programme at Maynooth University, having balanced a playing career in the UK and League of Ireland, offers an opinion held by many home-based football people.

“Stephen Kenny represents coaches that come from Ireland rather than someone who has been in the UK,” said Prenderville. “If I was coach at underage here, like I was with St Pat’s under 19s a few years ago, you would be disheartened to see him getting the sack and another foreign manager coming in, who will not look at the underage structures.

“We should persist with him because what is it saying to the rest of Irish football if we give this guy one campaign in the job? You can see what he is trying to develop with his style of play. That will take a bit of time but I imagine the players enjoy playing this way.

“Now I wouldn’t agree with all the decisions Stephen has made – he put the nose out of joint of some senior players early in his time. I think that was a mistake but he appears to have turned that around.

Forgotten results

“We are going to be punished by teams that are better at expressing themselves but if we do not give the man and the process a bit of time what does it say to the rest of the Irish coaches working in structures that have been put in place by the FAI?”

Prenderville’s logic could prove redundant if Kenny fails to secure a competitive victory in the last three World Cup qualifiers away to Azerbaijan on October 9th, home to Portugal or away to Luxembourg in November.

Over on Virgin Media, Damien Delaney, capped nine times up to 2014, refused to back Kenny after a solitary win over Andorra but he said as much with nuanced, intelligent commentary.

“I think Stephen was trying to shift it when he came out with that Germany 2024 statement,” said Delaney. “Those three pillars of results, style and blooding young players, he has forgotten results, for me, and people will not tolerate that, so he has put himself under an enormous amount of pressure.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the Azerbaijan game. If we do end up finishing bottom of the group it is a tough sell for Stephen.”

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