Stephen Kenny (file pic). Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Is the FAI's indecision harming Irish football?

The association this week confirmed that Stephen Kenny’s position as manager will be reviewed in November.

THE FATES of two national team managers dominated the Football Association of Ireland’s press conference on Thursday.

Yet it was not the only parallel with regard to the trajectories of Vera Pauw and Stephen Kenny.

Like Kenny, Pauw’s future has been a subject of months-long speculation (it’s arguably been years-long in the case of the former).

The controversial manner of Pauw’s exit is one that will likely be hotly debated for years to come.

The FAI earlier this week indicated that the team’s style, which some players and staff disagreed with, was the primary reason why the first-ever manager to qualify Ireland for a World Cup had to go.

Pauw suggested that the allegations of abuse and the unfortunate timing of The Athletic’s article highlighting the claims of players at Houston Dash was the “key” reason for her departure.

The former Ireland boss also said the FAI reneged on the promise of a contract offer, though CEO Jonathan Hill rejected this claim on Thursday.

Whether or not people agree with the choice to not renew Pauw’s contract, it is hard not to suspect that the FAI’s procrastination on the matter ultimately harmed the team’s performance.

The style of play did not appear to be an issue as recently as last October — in fact, team captain Katie McCabe told RTÉ after the Scotland playoff victory: “People might not like our style of play and the defending but we love it.”

But Pauw went into the 2023 World Cup in a weak position, with her future mired in uncertainty.

The ex-Ireland boss detailed her version of events according to RTÉ: “In May, there was going to be a final discussion with an offer, which was not made and on the 9th of June, a text message came that an offer would be made before the end of that afternoon, so far before the Athletic interview came out and then the Athletic interview came out.

“I had personal reasons why I had to engage in it, and the details are known by the CEO and the communications manager, so I have been completely honest to them about it but it looks now as if the same things were put into that article and I have stepped overboard to engage with players, or to put players under pressure just before the World Cup, which was not the case. And of course, the timing was not okay. From that moment on, the CEO has had meetings with staff members, with players and that has had a major influence on the development of the authority during the World Cup.”

Pauw clearly felt her authority had been undermined, creating evident tension in the camp.

Had the FAI been more decisive, then perhaps Ireland could have produced better results at the tournament.

Even if they had declared that her contract would not be renewed, the greater level of clarity going forward might have helped with squad morale. Pauw herself claims she “would have accepted and understood” the non-renewal if told before the World Cup.

In the end, nothing was done until the very last minute and Ireland arguably suffered the consequences in Australia.

There are echoes now with the situation in relation to embattled senior men’s manager Kenny.

The Irish team’s hopes of automatic qualification for the Euros effectively ended following the defeat to the Netherlands last Sunday.

The FAI subsequently confirmed that Kenny’s future would be decided in November, which smacked of Pauw-esque indecision, after three qualifying dead rubbers and a New Zealand friendly.

However, what can’t be ignored is the possibility that Ireland will contest playoff games in March with Euros qualification up for grabs.

You can read how this might happen in a full explainer of the situation by clicking here, but it is entirely dependent on results elsewhere across Europe.

To give a sense of how likely it is to occur, according to the We Global Twitter account’s projections, Ireland have a 12.24% of making the playoffs.

So the chances are remote as it stands but at the same time, it can’t be assumed that Ireland won’t make the playoffs.

Kenny’s current contract lasts until after the 2024 Euros.

“We are supportive of him completing the campaign and we hope against all odds that we still have a chance of qualifying,” FAI director of football Marc Canham said on Thursday.

“Completing the campaign,” would surely entail taking the team into the playoffs if the opportunity arose, but then Hill was unwilling to confirm or deny that this would be the case amid some confusing and mixed messaging.

The CEO told reporters: “We will go through the games in October and November and we will review where we are in November and see what position we are in at that point. I can’t hypothesise now in relation to that.” 

Even though it’s a long shot, it is surely best practice that the association anticipates the playoffs will feature Ireland in March — that way, they won’t be caught off guard if it does happen.

And in this improbable event, there are two conceivable scenarios. The FAI decide to part ways with Kenny and the new manager faces the instant prospect of two must-win games without having matches beforehand to experiment and prepare the players.

Or the FAI does not undermine its promise to let Kenny “complete the campaign” and the Dubliner gets another chance to prove the doubters wrong and secure qualification. And if that is indeed the long-term plan, then why not just say it now?

Neither scenario is ideal, and surely a degree of certainty at this point would be beneficial to the players and everyone else concerned.

Instead, it feels like history repeating itself — the association are set to leave everything up in the air until the very last minute, just as they did with Pauw.

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