Friday, 31 January 2014

Irish Football in Premier Trap

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Worrying for Irish football is the state of  the Premier League as it adopts little of the learning apparent in the German Bundesliga, Serie A or La Liga. A fact evidenced every time an England manager gets some injuries in his squad ahead of a major tournament as there seems little strength in depth. Occurring again this week in the build up to Roy Hogdson's games against Moldova and Ukraine.

For all the good utterances of Peter Scudamore CEO of the Premier League about the domestic game the facts do not bear that benefit out in real terms, as young English players are failing to get into their club sides given the increasing number of overseas players. Which is not a jingoistic observation, but a factual one as at least 65% of the players in English game are now foreigners. 

The top source for players being France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and in that order. 

When it comes to the English national team and injuries occur to the likes of Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard or Gareth Barry, there always appears to be few replacements at hand. Or even being blooded over the long term. Yet an English team has either won or appeared in the Champions League every other year since 2005 – the top club competition in Europe – all too often with sides that are three quarters overseas players. 

But if all the young talent from the club academies was blooded correctly then it would not be an issue for the national team. This proclivity highlighted even more when clubs announce their transfers in the close season, as the chances are few players are being chased. Unlike the days of the record breaking signings of Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker and Roy Keane. 

Soon it will;  be difficult to justify the costly club academies when agents keep providing cheaper overseas options, and clubs are unable recoup their investment with regular transfer fees of the players they have developed since 15 or 16 years of age. Also, domestic players appear to be more costly – given the valuation of Andy Carroll at £35m last season as an index.
No doubt some day there will be a Kirch type moment when fans, sponsors or pay-tv subscribers find the Premier League no longer attractive. Or value for money and the income slows down. 

At least one of the highest earners in the world Wayne Rooney is eligible for England and his salary of £17.6m will see some return as long as Manchester United remain a top Champions League club. The striker also scores for the national team regular. However the salaries for Sergio Aguero at Manchester City of £14.7m and Yaya Toure on £13.9m or indeed, Fernando Torres at Chelsea are costly to the game as it’s currently structured and that income that is leaving the English game. 

In Germany, Philip Lahm is the highest paid player on £11.9M, and in fairness it’s a right earned after a nearly a decade playing for his national team – and his German club Bayern Munich. 

With the latest BSkyB and British Telecom deals worth close £5bn to the Premier League - a substantial increase on the current three-year deal that runs until the end of the 2012-13 season - it would be naive to believe that this increased money will not be spent by club’s on increased wages. Or allow clubs chase some up to now unobtainable targets on the continent. Which all only adds to the long term problem 

In the more modest Irish case, the cost of Trapattoni and his backroom team, does not come cheap either - albeit it is subsidised between the FAI and a leading businessman. 

The qualification for Poland and Ukraine accrued significant prize money from UEFA - about €8m - and the costs of that were covered in many ways. However, the poor results at EURO 2012 show that the same money could be used for a longer term strategy, as at the age of 74 Giovanni Trapattoni is hardly the future for the next batch of Irish players. Or beyond Brazil 2014 world cup.

Unless, Marco Tardelli is the automatic replacement and offers the continuity – as in the German style of Klinsmann and his assistant Joachim Loew. Otherwise we just repeat the problems that have beset the FA in England over the years with their managers and then seeking them from other countries 

In the meantime the short term qualification for tournaments with no real longer term strategy seems wasteful - and Gdansk a year ago proved that point beyond doubt. Indeed, even if Pep Guardiola was managing Republic of Ireland there is only so far guile, guts and gusto can get a team at this level. 

That continuing absence of a serious domestic league – as exists in every other country in Europe – truncates the development of Irish players into the hands of clubs in Scotland, England and Wales. With all the quirks that managerial changes at any of those clubs can have on a player's long term career.  Which in effect will always dictate the Republic of Ireland’s future and always be the limitation on the ability to improve much beyond 18th place in the current world rankings. 

In the short term though, and like the Dutch FA, Irish football needs to accept a series of strategic objectives as the DFB started in 1997 - if the fans are to travel to far flung destinations of Poznan, Suwon, New York and Stuttgart. Just carrying the torch of hope for moral support is no longer a "plan". 

Or indeed blueprint for anything other than nights singing Ole Ole Ole.

As part of Irelands’ strategic goal there must be real targets in place and the involvement of former players - like Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Kevin Kilbane – who should be asked to help on some key deliverables from English clubs where they have influence. As former managers themesleves for the most aprt, they could work for the long term gain of Irish football and in return ensure a minimum target is met of qualification every two years to the major football tournaments. 

After all, the next EURO will have 24 teams qualifying and the world cup is already extended to an inordinate number of teams, which make qualifying feasible for any Republic of Ireland manager as it is 

What the EURO 2012 has shown that an absence of ten years since the last time Ireland qualified for Korea and Japan, a generation of fans missed out on Germany 2006, Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010. Meaning the expectation for fans this time around in Poland was based on the folklore handed down by those who had been in Stuttgart, Genoa or New York. All grossly exaggerated and bearing no reality to the real task at hand in a tough 16 team tournament where the opponents in Group C were Croatia, Italy and Spain. 

Sadly, the new BSkyB deal maybe the death knell for development of future Irish talent and will mean that the end for the likes of the Liam Brady's, Roy Keane's, Niall Quinn's, Kevin Moran's, Ronnie Whelan's or Paul McGrath's. These major clubs will never repeat their reliance on Irish, Welsh, English or Scottish players in our lifetime. 

As a result the national team will be the loser of all that experience and reliant on players battling it out in the championship. Or at best the struggling Premier League teams. All very unlike the EURO 1988 squad where the Irish players were stars at clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Aston Villa, or Celtic.  And to boot were all medal winners in their own right of League titles, FA Cup's or League Cups. 

But those days too seem of a bygone era. 

Republic of Ireland, EURO 1988 team 
Packie Bonner: Celtic 
Scottish League: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, Scottish Cup: 1980, 1988; Scottish League Cup: 1983 

Chris Morris, Celtic 
Scottish League: 1988, Scottish Cup: 1988; 

Chris Hughton; Tottenham Hotspur 
FA Cup: Winner 1981 & 1982), UEFA Cup 1984; FA Charity Shield: Winner (1981), runner up (1982). 

Mick McCarthy; Celtic 
Scottish Premier League 1988; Scottish Cup 1988 

Kevin Moran; Manchester United 
Dublin GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (2): 1976, 1977; Leinster Senior Football Championship (3): 1975, 1976, 1977; Manchester United FA Cup 1982–83, 1984–85; FA Charity Shield 1983 

Ronnie Whelan; Liverpool 
League Championship 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988; FA Cup 1986; League Cup 1982, 1983, 1984; Charity Shield; 1982, 1986, 1988; European Cup 1984 Super Cup 1986 

Paul McGrath, Manchester United 
FA Cup: 1985 

Ray Houghton; Liverpool 
League Championship 1988; League Cup 1986; 

John Aldridge; Liverpool 
Newport County Welsh Cup 1980; Oxford United, 3rd Division Winners 1984; 2nd Division, Winner 1985; Football League Cup 1986; League Championship 1988; Charity Shield 1988; 

Frank Stapleton; Manchester United 
Arsenal FA Cup 1979; Manchester United Charity Shield 1983; FA Cup 

Tony Galvin; Tottenham Hotspur 

FA Cup winner 1981; FA Cup winner 1982; UEFA Cup winner 1984 

OSM - All rights reserved [First published July 2012]

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