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'Is it time for us to think a little differently?' - Niall Quinn has a vision for Irish football

The ex-Ireland striker would love to get involved with the development of young players at grassroots level.

Quinn is enjoying his work with Sky Sports.
Quinn is enjoying his work with Sky Sports.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

NIALL QUINN DOESN’T miss the cut-throat business that is running and managing a Premier League club one bit.

If anything, he was glad to see the back of it. The former Ireland striker was tasked with steadying the ship as chairman of Sunderland in 2006 after the Irish Drumaville consortium took over and also briefly managed the Black Cats before the arrival of Roy Keane.

He then held the position of Director of International Development under current owner Ellis Short but departed three years ago to pursue a number of other business ventures.

“I kind of fell out of love with referees costing us big points,” Quinn says. “Players talking the talk but not walking the walk. I got wound up near the end. My demeanour was changing. I’d gone from this guy who was happy to bring the club to someone who was shouting and roaring at everybody in the office.

“I definitely changed as a person the longer it went on. And, having left it, I’m delighted I did. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back and do something in the football world.

I’ve got my badges and it’s time I put the tracksuit bottoms on, to get out and keep the tummy away if nothing else.”

Currently living with his family in his native Dublin, Quinn has taken a step back from the game in recent years but remains involved as a regular pundit and commentator for Sky Sports’s Premier League and international coverage.

It suits him just fine as he gets to see live, top quality football from the best seat in the house and give his thoughts without having to take the fortunes of former clubs Arsenal, Manchester City or Sunderland too seriously.

“I enjoy the games brilliantly but I’m not there worried about the implications of the result,” he explains. “And that’s the big difference. I love watching football and I’ve got a great love for it again.”

Now that he has rediscovered that passion, Quinn has thought seriously about how best he could put it to work. A man with two decades of experience as a professional player certainly has plenty to offer and helping to develop the next generation is one option which appeals to him.

“I’d love to work with younger players. I’ve got my full B license. I’d have to get my A license to go up the ranks. But I think with what I have, I could work with younger players.

“My wife and I spoke about this. You’re doing your TV and I have my little business bits and pieces that I have done but am I wasting valuable time? Could I put something together? It might be at college level. I don’t know. That would interest me.

I’m not in the mood of going back to the Premier League and taking on the agents again. The bane of my life for so long. All the different things that can happen at the top level. But I love working with young people who want to improve.

“Now you’ve still got talented ones who think they know it all and you’ve to kick them up the backside. You get that every session. But I love the fact that you can give something to these young lads and make them better.

“If I can do that over a two or three day course I would love to do it over a full year in college or something.”

Niall Quinn training the kids Quinn is eager to help in the development of young Irish footballers. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Like many, Quinn expresses his concern about the current structure of Irish football and its major shortcomings. Instead of sending our best young players to England at 14 or 15 years of age, a far greater emphasis needs to be put on education.

“Personally, I’d love if we were able to keep our players here until they had their education completed,” he says. “I’ve been asked on several occasions by parents of young people about to sign in England of two or three clubs which one should they go to.

“When I look back, the thing I feel worst about is the amount of Irish kids who came over to me when I was chairman of Sunderland who didn’t make it and I had stopped them doing their Leaving Cert. My club had stopped them fulfilling it and they come back and are trying to play catch-up.

“What I should have done is say you can come for the two years or whatever and if you don’t make it there’s your university paid. It sounds simply when I say it here now but if just doesn’t exist. I would love to get involved in something like that, (something) that stops our players thinking they have to go at 16 and give up everything.”

20 years ago, Irish players had to battle it out with the best youngsters from England and Scotland for spots at the top clubs. These days, they are more likely to be competing with their African and South American counterparts as the mega-rich Premier League attracts talent from the four corners of the globe.

According to Quinn, it’s about marketing our ‘brand’ to clubs beyond Britain.

“Why don’t clubs in Belgium and Holland understand that we’ve got great young players and why haven’t we marketed ourselves as opposed to relying on our kids being taken by the English clubs?

Sadly, the days of three and four players a year going to Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal (are gone). With the Africans, the Americans, the Europeans, it’s tougher than ever to get a career.

“Why can’t we become fashionable with our young players? If we have success under Martin (O’Neill) and we’re doing things in a particular way, can we put something together that people will take notice of.

“Is it time now for us to think a little differently now? Is it too much to ask that we stay away from the English clubs thinking they’d get us on the cheap and not give us an education. If somebody gave me the ability to go off and do that, I’d put a team around me.”

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Ben Blake

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