Richie Sadlier: let O’Neill leave if he wants to
Ireland were ruthlessly exposed for spending so little time preparing for the Danish threat
Martin O’Neill during the Denmark match. If he’s okay to continue with his hands-off approach then people are going to query it when it looks like his team lack guidance. Photograph: Reuters/Lee Smith
The plan, if there was one, failed miserably. The players, normally so dependable, made basic mistakes. The manager, despite his claims to know what to say at just the right time, made some decisions that would baffle the most basic of football minds.
Where Ireland go from here is where the focus has already turned, but it’s not a question that has too many optimistic answers. Whether Martin O’Neill is in charge or not, there’s a tough road ahead.
“We need to start again,” was O’Neill’s response on Tuesday night. “We need to think about some younger elements, and how it is time to blood them through.”
The obvious concern is who those players may turn out to be. This isn’t a problem that is the result of Tuesday’s defeat, and it has nothing to do with O’Neill or how he does his job. Since he took over he has spoken of his desire to identify and blood young talent, but he has spoken many times since of his frustrations at what’s out there.
It’s the area that is of greatest concern for the immediate future of the Ireland team, though most of the attention will be on whether O’Neill stays on.
Despite the verbal agreement with the FAI to extend his contract for two years, it’s not a certainty he wants to remain manager of Ireland. The reaction to losing 5-1 at home to Denmark has surprised him somewhat, with some reports suggesting he is considering his position.
I’m not sure what he feels is the appropriate way for us all to correctly react, but I wouldn’t be urging him to stay if I was on the board of the FAI.
It’s not obvious where he would end up if he did go. He may feel like there’s a better job out there for him, but I can’t see many Premier League clubs scrambling to approach him. He makes constant references to the management style of Brian Clough, hardly the noises that would ingratiate him to modern club owners and chairmen.
As for Championship clubs, they’re unlikely to pay more than he’s getting from the FAI, but maybe money isn’t an issue with him anymore.
Maybe the need to remind people he once won European trophies as a footballer 37 years ago to justify his pedigree for international management is wearing thin.
Given his responses recently in press conferences, suggestions that luck played a factor in Ireland getting this far, don’t go down too well either.
Certainly it would appear post-match interviews with RTÉ’s Tony O Donoghue are becoming too much for him to take. You’d wonder how he would ever have handled the English media if he was given the England job when he was interviewed for it in 2006. The strain of this one is certainly starting to show.
You’d understand his temptation to walk if the reports are true. His relationship with the Irish media is undoubtedly strained, the mood among supporters has noticeably shifted this week, and the squad he will have to work with is about to get weaker.
There are quite a few players expected to retire very soon. There aren’t many coming through that could immediately replace them. Given he has already pointing out the limitations of the current group, you would imagine he is certainly going to factor this in.
He is said to feel under-appreciated by a footballing nation that has ideas above itself. If there is actually any truth to that, he’s a lot more sensitive than his thorny exchanges with the media suggest.
Sorry, but if you substitute both of your defensive midfielders when you’re against one of the best attacking midfielders around people are going to notice. They’re entitled to highlight it as a key factor in Ireland’s second-half collapse.
If your team has not learned how to keep possession of the ball, it’s fair to ask why O’Neill is unwilling or incapable of remedying it.
And if he’s okay to continue with his hands-off approach then people are going to query it when it looks like his team lack guidance.
Tuesday wasn’t a defeat, it was a calamity. It was a mauling. It was a tactically rudderless performance from a team that was ruthlessly exposed for spending so little time preparing for the threat of the opposition.
According to Denmark’s coach Åge Hareide, Ireland’s formation was precisely what they hoped it would be given the players they had. It’s hard to hide from an assertion like that, at this level especially.
Yet, above all, O’Neill prides himself in his ability to motivate players. He’s exactly the kind of manager you’d want if you had a suspect group of players that needed cajoling into giving their all in each game. You can say all you like about the level of the current squad, but there is no questioning them in terms of honesty or character. O’Neill is bringing to the party something that’s already there in spades, which is perhaps the strongest argument to be open to a change.
Maybe this is indeed going to be a period of transition for the squad, where young inexperienced players will be introduced. If time is to be spent nurturing youngsters into the group, then they are going to need a manager prepared to manage them.
Not someone that names his team at the last possible minute having given the players the minimal input during preparation.
Certainly not someone who makes a virtue out of saying as little as possible. That’s not an approach to the job that is likely to work in such a scenario, so maybe it’s time to acknowledge that things could improve if there is change.
If O’Neill wants to back out of the verbal agreement, the FAI should let him.