Stephen Kenny likely to be given time to finish what he started

Previous Ireland managers have failed to recover from seismic setbacks

Luxembourg goalkeeper  Anthony Moris celebrates at the final whistle of the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Luxembourg goalkeeper Anthony Moris celebrates at the final whistle of the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Stephen Kenny can take some comfort from the tone of the support he received from leading FAI officials on Sunday but the Ireland manager can be under no illusions about just how urgently he needs to oversee an improvement in the senior team’s fortunes.

Both Roy Barrett and Gerry McAnaney, chair of the association’s board and association president, respectively, say they still very much envisage Kenny being in charge come the end of the current World Cup campaign and the former went as far as to suggest that he would give the 49-year-old a new contract at that point in the event that “we keep making progress along the way”.

Both men articulated the view that assessing the Dubliner’s performance involves far more that simply looking at the team’s results with the continued overhaul of the team’s tactics and personnel against a background of fewer players featuring at top clubs in England and a youth development system here that has long been chronically under resourced all needing to be part of the equation.

The tone of their expressions of support went well beyond the minimum that was required of them in the circumstances and Kenny does seem set to be given space and time to finish what he has started, potentially into a Euro 2024 qualification campaign that would offer a far better prospect of qualifying with a team that might, by then, have been successfully overhauled.

Recent history, however, suggests that few managers survive in the long term after the sort of seismic setback like the one experienced by Ireland on Saturday night. Steve Staunton (the 5-2 defeat in Cyprus), Giovanni Trapattoni (the three group stages losses in Poland) and Martin O’Neill (the 5-1 playoff game against Denmark) were all initially allowed to carry on amid diminishing public support and some calls for their departure.

In every instance, though, their position was persistently called into question afterwards and they only ever seemed to be another bad night away from being sacked by a chief executive who was anxious not to stray too far offside in terms of public opinion. Each ultimately staggered on for a year or so but all, it became clear, had been fatally undermined.

In fact, you have to go back to Mick McCarthy and the 3-2 defeat in Macedonia during his first campaign at the helm for an example of a manager who was allowed to fully recover from the sort of position in which Kenny now finds himself. And there was probably a similar sort of recognition at that stage of the task the then manager had inherited.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and assistant Keith Andrews during the World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and assistant Keith Andrews during the World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

On social media this weekend, Kenny’s supporters continued to point to the example of Michael O’Neill who has admitted to having considered resigning after several of his early games in charge of Northern Ireland. The now Stoke City boss went nine games without a win and managed just one in his first 18 but ultimately got the team to Euro 2016 having refreshed the squad and transformed the style of play.

The backing expressed on Sunday certainly suggests that at least some key figures in the FAI want to be similarly patient with Kenny but there is clearly a great deal at stake for the association. And so even if, as certainly looks to be the case, qualification for the next World Cup is now out of the question, the team needs to show persistent, and more tangible, signs of progress if his employers are to feel able to continue standing by him.

Barrett said on Sunday that the association’s well documented financial situation would not be “an overriding consideration” in the event that a change did have to be made. He also attributed the absence of a main sponsor from the association’s current roster far more to a combination of the recent political and organisational turmoil it has been through than the senior team’s ongoing struggles. But results like Saturday’s clearly cannot help.

In the event that they were to move to replace Kenny, however, the association would face a couple of new dilemmas.

Firstly, they would have to decide whether completing the process handed to Kenny – that rejuvenation of the squad and change of playing style – would be an essential part of the brief for his successor; something that might well deter some potential candidates.

Secondly, it would have to decide where to position itself to compete financially. Pitching to the pool of Premier League managers would likely require a return to paying the sorts of salaries Trapattoni and O’Neill were on – between €1 million and twice that – at a time when the association still needs substantial public support, the case for which is at least partly based on the need to preserve grassroots jobs that very modestly paid.

Alternatively, they could go with another locally based candidate, hire someone whose main qualification is a playing history with the team, drop down the English leagues or recruit from further afield. All carry risks.

So, of course, does sticking with a man who has yet to conjure up a win in 10 but who has, through most of those, been wildly unfortunate with injuries and other considerations.

None of those come anywhere close to excusing what happened on Saturday, though. And while the players can hold up their hands all they want, there is one person is these situations who ends up paying with his job.

It is good that Kenny has been given more time to prove himself . . . to save himself. Much more of this, though, and it is somewhat inevitable that it will only be borrowed.

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