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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019

6 issues that the new Irish manager must urgently address

The Robbie Keane question and other dilemmas in the new managers’ in-box at Abbotstown.

Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne have both seen better days.
Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne have both seen better days.

1. Falling attendances

ATTENDANCES AT THE Aviva Stadium have gradually been falling in recent years. Although the recession is partially to blame, the dour football that the side usually served up under Trap certainly did not help matters. Football is a results-based business and though fans won’t mind how the team play provided they are winning, the new boss might do well to heed calls to at least experiment with a more enterprising brand of football in the coming months, in an attempt to shake off the apathy surrounding the team which exists within large sections of the footballing public. Watching Wales and Scotland home matches in recent years, it’s often noticeable that their magnificent stadiums are only half full at best. Ireland’s future could be similar if a drastic shake-up isn’t implemented urgently.

2. The Robbie Keane question

Are we better with or without Robbie Keane in our first XI? That is the question which many critical observers have been asking for some time now. And while the striker remains our one genuine goalscorer, there are games where he contributes next to nothing apart from these sporadic strikes. Hence, for all his occasional brilliance, there is a feeling that having Keane in the side represents an unnecessary indulgence. Certainly, he still merits a spot on the bench at the very least, but for tough away trips, when 4-5-1 seems the essential formation to adopt, the new man will surely regard the aging striker as too much of a luxury to accommodate in the starting line-up.

3. The side’s goal-shy tendencies

One of the big problems under Trapattoni was goals, as they rarely managed more than one or two per game and they usually came from the one source – Robbie Keane. The fact that in the most recent squad, Richard Dunne was the third top scorer says it all and epitomises the innate conservatism of the Trapattoni era. While a better attacking plan and more ambition will go a considerable way towards improving matters, the team also patently lack an abundance of goalscorers. Trying out Anthony Stokes might be a good place to start.

4. The ostensible lack of young players coming through

image(Seamus Coleman is one of the few promising young Irish players. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie)

This is arguably the biggest concern of all for the new manager. The Irish youth sides have consistently failed to show any real promise in recent years and the senior team has suffered as a result.  While they do have some young players with much promise (such as James McCarthy  and Seamus Coleman), in other areas, there is an apparent lack of talent coming through – there is no real sign, for instance, of the next Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne or Damien Duff. As crucial as this point is, it is conceivably the one problem that the new man has little to no chance of directly influencing. Instead, he must simply encourage the FAI to invest in youth development and make significant changes at grass-roots level in the hope of emulating other burgeoning footballing countries with relatively modest populations such as Belgium.

5. Style

Ireland will presumably seek to abandon Trap’s increasingly tiresome Catenaccio approach and adopt a new tactical style in the hope of acquiring further success under the new man. Few people are suggesting the Boys in Green have the capability to emulate Spain, but neither is there a fundamental need to replicate the overwhelming negativity of the Trapattoni era. Instead, surely a happy medium is achievable with the right man in charge, retaining Ireland’s defensive solidity shown under the Italian, while yielding a more ambitious and cohesive attacking approach. Mick McCarthy, during his tenure, managed to employ a style of football that was highly watchable, while still accommodating ordinary players such as Gary Breen and Mark Kinsella. Surely, this can be achieved once more.

6. Player selection

The new manager needs to make an impact immediately by conducting an overhaul of the squad. Players such as Paul Green, Conor Sammon, Paul McShane, Andy Keogh and Darren O’Dea should all be ditched indefinitely, having had their chances. On the other hand, Anthony Stokes, Joey O’Brien, Damien Delaney, Darron Gibson and Stephen Ireland should all at least be given a chance to prove themselves. Wes Hoolahan needs to be rewarded for his patience with a proper run in the first team, as does Keiren Westwood now that he’s a regular Premier League starter. We’re a small nation with limited resources and consequently, need to explore every vaguely promising option between now and the start of the Euros, so that it becomes much more apparent what Ireland’s best team is.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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