Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Ice Man Cometh for England #ENGICE


Not so long ago Chris Coleman had to leave the Larrisa club in Greece due to a lack of money, a move that followed his sacking at Coventry City, who hired him when he walked out of Real Sociedad in San Sebastian. A departure that was of his own making and seemingly rejecting an ideal place to rehabilitate his reputation after a number of seasons at Fulham came to an end. A club where he was a successful player and looked the ideal candidate to become a coach - following a serious injury that ended his playing days. On replacing Jean Tigana he showed some talent in management in his season. But then was faced with the exit door when the Craven Cottage dreams could not be fulfilled, in his view, as the club sold key players. Today he stands on the brink of history with Wales now the only home nation to make it to the EURO 2016 quarterfinals and his reputation more than rehabilitated.

In contrast Vicente del Bosque returns to Spain with his future in doubt, having said pre-tournament anyway that he was unlikely to continue much further. So the Royal Spanish Football Federation now have little choice but to close that option as they also departed France 2016 relinquishing their eight year hold on the EURO Trophy first seized in Vienna. For a while Del Bosque continued the magic Luis Aragones first sparked in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. But Spain have reached the end of that cycle it seems and now a search for a replacement will soon begin no doubt. The inept performance by Spain in Brazil in 2014 also casting a shadow heralding the end of Spain’s Barca football production line - for the moment. Despite topping their qualifying group unbeaten they failed to fire once again in a major tournament. A sharp contrast to their hunger in South Africa at the World Cup in 2010 which was followed by the Euro 2012 demolition of Italy in the final.

Iceland’s defeat of England secured the only possible career move for Roy Hodgson. Who read out a statement confirming his retirement as the match in Nice barely ended. Equalling the speed of Kevin Keegan resignation in the Wembley toilets after a home defeat by Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier. The result compounding another timid appearance at the 2000 EURO in Holland and Belgium where defeats to Portugal and Romania precluded passage to the knock out stages for England. The sputtering performance at Wembley forcing the passionate and honest Keegan to hand in the keys early to the FA and walking out of the England job he loved. In Nice Hodgson did something similar after a nation of 330,000 ended the unrealistic aspirations of England followers once again, who are now seeing another chance to repeat 1966 pass them by. The names of who might replace Hodgson now ringing in the air and proving the major debating point in the wake of the defeat. Apart from more comedic asides arising as the likes of Alan Shearer declare a possible interest.

The logical thinking is that the Football Association have a structure in place. One that over the years has tried to cultivate potential candidates over the long term with Trevor Brooking and Stuart Pearce amongst those earliest on the shop floor fulfilling interim roles on occasion. Albeit Pearce failed with his underage charges in his time and was pushed off the ladder of candidates. With his former teammate at EURO 1996, Gareth Southgate, the main name currently the mix for the Russia 2018 campaign. We say logical if the FA are to back their own system and development structure. Especially with other English candidates few and far between. Though the FA also have a penchant for highly paid foreigners such as Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Ericsson. 

As always though it is the incumbent manager that pays the ultimate price regardless of circumstances. Or whether the overpaid players failed to perform. In Nice the latter was definitely the case and the suitability of Gary Neville to management is now also in smithereens as from the bench alongside Hodgson he proved an unviable alternative. With his term at Valencia earlier this year not bolstering his CV either and undoubtable proof that punditry is easier than life in the real world.

Amidst the mayhem a few issue stands out as bizarre. One of the first is that a coach like Paul Clement, who has just re-joined Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich seems to offer no appeal to the England set up. Yet he has been with Ancelotti at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid with league titles and Champions League medals under his belt. Always operating at the toughest of levels and having to deal with some of the highest paid talent in the world. That accumulated expertise and skill one would imagine to be invaluable to any national football federation. Particularly one struggling to deliver results at the highest levels such as the FA. Whether as a coach or an adviser surely Clement has something to offer England football. 

More so if one looks at the supposed minnow nations relying on their own former players such as Michael O’Neil at Northern Ireland, Martin O’Neill with the Republic of Ireland or Chris Coleman. All proving very effective operators among the elite nations with supposedly lesser talented sides than England. Or, more accurately, more non-Premier League players. Ironcially, none of whom would have ever figured an FA list of possible candidates to manage England.As with Iceland's manager Lars Lagerbeck, who ensured that his own CV continues to show no defeats by any England teams in 6 or more major tournaments. In a  career spanning time with Sweden, Nigeria and now Iceland. 

However, Hodgson is part of a long list of England managers who arrived with excellent CV’s and found nothing but failure managing the national team. All unable to replicate the feats of Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966 or indeed 1970. Except for the late Bobby Robson who took England to a semi-final with Germany at Italia 1990 only to lose out in the penalty shootout. Or Terry Venables in 1996 who squeezed past Spain on penalties in the quarterfinal only to stumble at the seminal stage to Germany once again - on penalties. That German resilience always apparent in major tournaments with them finally exercising their own demons in Brazil two years ago with a Mario Götze goal that ended the dreams of Lionel Messi and Argentina. Spain also did the same in 2008, 2010 and 2012, as have France in 1998 and 2000; with Italy winning the 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

In fact, of the major football nations England’s over expectant ambitions remain unfulfilled on the world stage and as consequence of poor play now exit left in France without any willingness to analyse the fundamental problems at player level which seem to preclude any success. Bizarrely Southgate was not part of England’s original travelling party to Euro 2016 but he did undertake various scouting missions on opponents during the tournament. Hopefully one of them was not Iceland. Or someone forgot to read his notes. Although not an official member of the coaching staff there were late moves to make him part of the England set-up. 

For some within the FA the former Middlesbrough manager is already a favourite and improved his reputation by leading the England Under 21s to victory in the Toulon U-21 Tournament final earlier in the month – also beating the host nation France.

For the moment though Roy Hodgson joins a rogue’s gallery alongside Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor, Fabio Capello, Glen Hoddle, Peter Taylor, Howard Wilkinson, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, and Sven Goran Eriksson. Not forgetting those who were refused the chance like Brian Clough, Harry Redknapp or Luiz Felipe Scolari. 

Another fine mess! 


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The Ice Man Cometh for England #ENGICE


Not so long ago Chris Coleman had to leave the Larrisa club in Greece due to a lack of money, a move that followed his sacking at Coventry City, who hired him when he walked out of Real Sociedad in San Sebastian. A departure that was of his own making and seemingly rejecting an ideal place to rehabilitate his reputation after a number of seasons at Fulham came to an end. A club where he was a successful player and looked the ideal candidate to become a coach - following a serious injury that ended his playing days. On replacing Jean Tigana he showed some talent in management in his season. But then was faced with the exit door when the Craven Cottage dreams could not be fulfilled, in his view, as the club sold key players. Today he stands on the brink of history with Wales now the only home nation to make it to the EURO 2016 quarterfinals and his reputation more than rehabilitated.

In contrast Vicente del Bosque returns to Spain with his future in doubt, having said pre-tournament anyway that he was unlikely to continue much further. So the Royal Spanish Football Federation now have little choice but to close that option as they also departed France 2016 relinquishing their eight year hold on the EURO Trophy first seized in Vienna. For a while Del Bosque continued the magic Luis Aragones first sparked in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. But Spain have reached the end of that cycle it seems and now a search for a replacement will soon begin no doubt. The inept performance by Spain in Brazil in 2014 also casting a shadow heralding the end of Spain’s Barca football production line - for the moment. Despite topping their qualifying group unbeaten they failed to fire once again in a major tournament. A sharp contrast to their hunger in South Africa at the World Cup in 2010 which was followed by the Euro 2012 demolition of Italy in the final.

Iceland’s defeat of England secured the only possible career move for Roy Hodgson. Who read out a statement confirming his retirement as the match in Nice barely ended. Equalling the speed of Kevin Keegan resignation in the Wembley toilets after a home defeat by Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier. The result compounding another timid appearance at the 2000 EURO in Holland and Belgium where defeats to Portugal and Romania precluded passage to the knock out stages for England. The sputtering performance at Wembley forcing the passionate and honest Keegan to hand in the keys early to the FA and walking out of the England job he loved. In Nice Hodgson did something similar after a nation of 330,000 ended the unrealistic aspirations of England followers once again, who are now seeing another chance to repeat 1966 pass them by. The names of who might replace Hodgson now ringing in the air and proving the major debating point in the wake of the defeat. Apart from more comedic asides arising as the likes of Alan Shearer declare a possible interest.

The logical thinking is that the Football Association have a structure in place. One that over the years has tried to cultivate potential candidates over the long term with Trevor Brooking and Stuart Pearce amongst those earliest on the shop floor fulfilling interim roles on occasion. Albeit Pearce failed with his underage charges in his time and was pushed off the ladder of candidates. With his former teammate at EURO 1996, Gareth Southgate, the main name currently the mix for the Russia 2018 campaign. We say logical if the FA are to back their own system and development structure. Especially with other English candidates few and far between. Though the FA also have a penchant for highly paid foreigners such as Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Ericsson. 

As always though it is the incumbent manager that pays the ultimate price regardless of circumstances. Or whether the overpaid players failed to perform. In Nice the latter was definitely the case and the suitability of Gary Neville to management is now also in smithereens as from the bench alongside Hodgson he proved an unviable alternative. With his term at Valencia earlier this year not bolstering his CV either and undoubtable proof that punditry is easier than life in the real world.

Amidst the mayhem a few issue stands out as bizarre. One of the first is that a coach like Paul Clement, who has just re-joined Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich seems to offer no appeal to the England set up. Yet he has been with Ancelotti at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid with league titles and Champions League medals under his belt. Always operating at the toughest of levels and having to deal with some of the highest paid talent in the world. That accumulated expertise and skill one would imagine to be invaluable to any national football federation. Particularly one struggling to deliver results at the highest levels such as the FA. Whether as a coach or an adviser surely Clement has something to offer England football. 

More so if one looks at the supposed minnow nations relying on their own former players such as Michael O’Neil at Northern Ireland, Martin O’Neill with the Republic of Ireland or Chris Coleman. All proving very effective operators among the elite nations with supposedly lesser talented sides than England. Or, more accurately, more non-Premier League players. Ironcially, none of whom would have ever figured an FA list of possible candidates to manage England.As with Iceland's manager Lars Lagerbeck, who ensured that his own CV continues to show no defeats by any England teams in 6 or more major tournaments. In a  career spanning time with Sweden, Nigeria and now Iceland. 

However, Hodgson is part of a long list of England managers who arrived with excellent CV’s and found nothing but failure managing the national team. All unable to replicate the feats of Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966 or indeed 1970. Except for the late Bobby Robson who took England to a semi-final with Germany at Italia 1990 only to lose out in the penalty shootout. Or Terry Venables in 1996 who squeezed past Spain on penalties in the quarterfinal only to stumble at the seminal stage to Germany once again - on penalties. That German resilience always apparent in major tournaments with them finally exercising their own demons in Brazil two years ago with a Mario Götze goal that ended the dreams of Lionel Messi and Argentina. Spain also did the same in 2008, 2010 and 2012, as have France in 1998 and 2000; with Italy winning the 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

In fact, of the major football nations England’s over expectant ambitions remain unfulfilled on the world stage and as consequence of poor play now exit left in France without any willingness to analyse the fundamental problems at player level which seem to preclude any success. Bizarrely Southgate was not part of England’s original travelling party to Euro 2016 but he did undertake various scouting missions on opponents during the tournament. Hopefully one of them was not Iceland. Or someone forgot to read his notes. Although not an official member of the coaching staff there were late moves to make him part of the England set-up. 

For some within the FA the former Middlesbrough manager is already a favourite and improved his reputation by leading the England Under 21s to victory in the Toulon U-21 Tournament final earlier in the month – also beating the host nation France.

For the moment though Roy Hodgson joins a rogue’s gallery alongside Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor, Fabio Capello, Glen Hoddle, Peter Taylor, Howard Wilkinson, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, and Sven Goran Eriksson. Not forgetting those who were refused the chance like Brian Clough, Harry Redknapp or Luiz Felipe Scolari. 

Another fine mess! 


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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Diamonds Aren't Forever #IRLITA


Straightjackets in football don’t work. At least in Irish football anyway. That stale end to the Giovanni Trapattoni years at EURO 2012 delivered irrefutable proof that the game evolves constantly. What’s more, good players just need direction – not restrictions – as a hot sweaty night in Lille four years later has proven. As under new management the Republic of Ireland reached the last 16 of the Euro’s and now mix with some of the European football elite. Doing so by beating the same opponents of four years ago, Italy, and never looking out of place, or out of their depth in the final group rubber. 

Not dissimilar to that ill-fated night in Stade de France in 2009 when the nation’s footballers played for their lives in the second leg of the 2010 World Cup play off and doing so without restrictions. Having taken the game plan into their own hands. Only to be cheated of a place in South Africa by French striker Thierry Henry’s hand. The latter now waxing lyrically on the couch for BBC Sport’s coverage of the tournament. Although on Sunday he may face a number of rougher tackles under a make believe hashtag #Remember2009

Meanwhile back in Versailles the Ireland manager can reflect on series of selections that addressed the visible bottlenecks in the defeat to world number two side, Belgium, last Saturday. Discarding the diamond for a more practical flat midfield formation that allowed for quicker transition from defence to attack accompanied by an all-out energy that was invisible in their last outing. Raising the tempo too in order to deprive Italy time to build ball possession or start fluid attacks for Za Za up front. 

Albeit Azzurri boss Antonio Conte’s side were deemed to be a second string, they still fielded defensive duo Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci for good measure. But neither able to really contain a physical Darryl Murphy, or the always irrepressible Shane Long. Both of whom ran a quarter of a marathon in testing conditions in Stade Lille Metropole on Wednesday that helped engineer passage to the last 16 in Lyon. And a meeting with France on Sunday as the reward. The selections made by Martin O’Neill proved it wasn’t just courage, but an understanding of a different game plan that might gave his charges a chance of upsetting Italy. Hoping also for that bit of luck that never goes astray in any big match.

Although not favoured totally by good fortune, given a young Romanian referee. Who seemed overawed by some of the potential decisions and failing to spot the numerous Italians faux injuries. With the biggest oversight a foul on James McClean late in the second half inside the penalty box that Mr Ovidiu Hategen deemed fair. A penalty that would have proved timely for an Irish team clearly reaching maximum output after an endless chase for the previous seventy minutes. 

But unknown at the time fate had prepared another outcome with the substitutions of Shane Long and Darryl Murphy making way for Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan. The latter about to impact the script once again in the final quarter. First with an unlikely miss in front of goal when winning back a ball on the Italian penalty box. As he fluffed his strike and put the ball into the French keeper’s arms. An unlikely result for such a talented player who has only found international recognition late in his career. 

Then just a few minutes later a break out of defence from Robbie Brady saw the ball pass through McGeady who in turn found Hoolahan on the right hand side. After checking back in to his left foot Hoolahan floated a pass - into the same spot where he had just missed his own chance - finding Brady in full flight towards goal. His Norwich team mate bravely heading the ball into the back of the Italian net and securing his own moment in another memorable victory for the Republic of Ireland. 

Although this time with only minutes left on the clock and equalling Ray Houghton’s feats in Stuttgart 1988 and New Jersey 1994 - both of which were scored very early in those games against England and Italy respectively. Leaving fans drained for three quarters of the match as they waited in desperation for the referee’s final whistle to start of unexpected celebrations. The victory in Lille now passing that baton of Irish scorers on to the next generation and engendering further support for a game that had been sustained on crumbs before Jack Charlton took Ireland to the first Euro’s in Germany in 1988. Then following it with the world cups of Italy in 1990 and then USA 1994. That momentum then restored by Mick McCarthy in 2002 in Korea and Japan when a draw against Germany - from Robbie Keane goal – ensured passage to the next round. 

Since then though Irish fans lived off scraps as it was 2012 before the nation reached another international football tournament and that was under Italian Giovanni Trapattoni.

Although the Italian was an efficient operator, he was a man of another time, and the overriding benefits of his organisation - post Steve Staunton - were erased by his rigidness at major competitions. A fate he had similarly befallen when leading Italy in the 2002 world cup where he lost controversially in the last 16 to the host nation Korea. For Ireland in 2012 his team from the outset looked exhausted, mentally drained and out of ideas as early as the first game against Croatia. With the Italy and Spain matches proving white washes it was hard to find any Irish heroes in Poland nd Ukraine with many of those players emerging with much more than scar tissue.

Thankfully in this new era of O’Neill and Roy Keane it is the exact opposite with the two former Brian Clough prodigies full of the quirks that were part nd parcel of the successful Nottingham Forest manager. Yet both very in tune with their player’s needs, each other and most importantly, tactically innovative. O’Neill proving that already against Germany at the AVIVA where the world champions were rendered infective for the most of the game and Darren Randolph and Shane Long combining to secure that vital win which revived the EURO 2016 hopes. 

That night a victory was deemed impossible by the pundits ahead of the game as Glen Whelan was unavailable and a fear that the diamond would have to be ditched. However, in the end the result proved that was not the case – perhaps the greatest learning for O’Neill - as the night in Lille showed many similar characteristics. On both occasions the absence of Whelan empowering James McCarthy – who despite the self-opinionated protestations of Eamon Dunphy on RTE – is a valuable cog to Ireland’s offensive game plans. Proving that with more responsibility the Everton man responds and plays with less inhibition. With James McClean also showing the usual commitment and effort that has earned him a more regular place on the left side for Ireland.

Although the value of Whelan is not diminished as yet it offers less options in the modern front football style that requires taking on opponents with the ball at feet and running with speed. The Stoke City midfielder a throwback to former Bohemians and Manchester United’s, Mick Martin – or indeed John Giles in his later years for Ireland – happy to move side to side for possession sake rather than risk going forward. Which at times is required when soaking up pressure but not for placing opponents under pressure as Jack Charlton so fondly used to called tactics. 

Lille has proved that diamonds aren’t forever and it was a night where Robbie Brady became the new Ray Houghton, Ireland reached the last sixteen once gain and Roy and Martin became the new Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters. The mentions of Stuttgart, Giants Stadium and Ibaraki will also give way to that famous night in Lille of June 2016.

For those that were there it was another one of those iconic moments

#COYBIG


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Monday, 13 June 2016

Iconic Olympic Moments - Muhammad Ali


Surprise torch lighter Muhammad Ali lit the stadium cauldron to open the Atlanta Games in an emotional moment that has become an iconic image in Olympic history. A Sports Illustrated picture of the scene at the time was boldly entitled: "The greatest start to an Olympics."



Is O'Neill the Sorcerer's Apprentice




Martin O’Neill it is, seemingly, for the Republic of Ireland vacancy barring any mishap, change of mind, or appearances of other interested candidates. Or indeed the fact that O’Neill may not even want the post. Albeit newspaper reports this week indicate that the former Northern Ireland international may have met the Football Association of Ireland interviewing duet, Dokter and Houghton. However, it maybe just a formality as other reports scream that Ipswich Town’s Mick McCarthy is rather keen too. But has yet to be spoken to by the interviewers.

Although the return of McCarthy is hard to fathom in many ways, beyond perhaps the obvious – that much enhanced pay scale that now rates to the FAI position – as he already lived the dream in 2002. Coming close to Jack Charlton’s record from 1990 and almost getting Ireland to the quarterfinals. Proving just a penalty too far for Mick’s squad in Japan over a decade ago. To relive a lesser dream now seems unusual rare, unless your name is Gus Hiddink, who has no fear about returning to former clubs once, twice or even three times.

O’Neill’s name though has been long touted as the preferred choice for the FAI, even on previous occasions. But the decision was impossible for very understandable personal reasons at the time for him to take the role. Though in 2006 he did resurface at Aston Villa where he lasted four years and handled speculation along the way that he was England boss in waiting material. Or indeed even Liverpool bound soon after Rafa Benitez was axed at Anfield. 

But as Brian Clough once said about O’Neill “If he'd been English or Swedish, he'd have walked the England job." 

On the field though Martin achieved some magic with Villa and in the 2008/09 was at one point on target to clinch a top four Premier League place. However as it is with football those dreams fell apart when a loss in the UEFA Cup led to a lengthy losing streak in the League which ended the hopes long harboured at Villa Park of a return to the Champions League. 

His premature departure - virtually at the start of the 2010 season - earned him no friends as he left the Villains very much in the lurch in pre-season. And without any added silverware if the analysis were to be fulsome, his reputation was somewhat tarnished. As winning was something he had regularly done at Celtic during his five year tenure. Then reappearance at Sunderland at the end of 2011, in the wake of previous Gaffers Niall Quinn, Roy Keane, Ricky Sbrigia, Steve Bruce and Eric Black seemed uncharacteristic. 

However it was a club he had supported seemingly all his life and in some way that made sense of his choice. 

Time though was to prove that dreams and success are very different things and O’Neill parted company with Sunderland in the spring of 2013. Again without any silverware or additional personal honours from those gained at Wycombe Wanderers and Leicester City – in his early days of management - in the last Century.

But it is as a player that Martin O’Neill’s achievements cannot be faulted, twice a Champions League medal winner, First Division winner of the equivalent of the Premier League today, twice a League Cup Champion and then Super Cup winner in 1979. All achieved with the modest outfit put together by Brian Clough at the City Ground under the name Nottingham Forest. A team that went out and redistributed most of the trophies in Europe for about five years. 

Their classic rivalry with the mighty Liverpool in the late 1970’s stuff of legend. As was there first European title won in Munich in 1979 against Malmo.

A feat repeated at the Santiago Bernabeu the following year against the might of Kevin Keegan’s Hamburger SV, albeit both matches were won by just a single goal, they were still won. Still one of the teams to ever retain the European Cup trophy the others being Ajax, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Benfica, Liverpool, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Exalted company it has be said, especially considering where Nottingham Forest is today in the 21st Century.

O’Neill was also part of a Northern Ireland team that reached consecutive World Cup Finals in 1982 and four years later in Mexico. Playing only in the qualifying campaign for 1986. The appearance in Spain being the most renowned as they beat the hosts - against all pre-tournament odds - and were rewarded with a quarterfinal stage in Madrid. Losing out to France one Sunday afternoon that July, understandably unable to repel the might of Michel Platini, Dominique Rocheteau, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Marius Tresor, and Genghini at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.

But it was a memorable party at the Alameda Hotel that night. The team able to go home with heads held high having reached beyond their own dreams and Gerry Armstrong’s cracking goal in Valencia the abiding memory. 

In Mexico four years later it was a different story and O’Neill was to miss out due to a chronic knee injury. Perhaps fortunate as passage forward that time was never going to be easy. Particularly at altitude and after drawing with Algeria in the first game, leaving the vital meeting with Spain all about payback for 1982. Then followed by a 3-0 loss to the Brazil. 

On leaving Forest in 1981 O’Neill became somewhat of a journeyman with spells at Manchester City, Norwich City, Notts County, Chesterfield, Fulham and Swindon. Never able to recreate that magic of the Clough era from earlier years. Where a group of "has beens" and "unknowns" marched on Europe. 

Clough and Peter Taylor gathered from Liverpool one Larry Lloyd; Frank Clark from Newcastle; John McGovern from Leeds United, then Birmingham's Kenny Burns; Banks understudy Peter Shilton; local lad Ian Bowyer, non-league find Gary Birtles, and also the irrepressible John Robertson already in house. Boosted then by the shrewd purchase in 1979 of the first million pound player, Trevor Francis. The team’s strength simply being the sum of all the funny individual parts all playing a passion game.

Of all the players in those two Champions League final teams, O’Neill remains the only one who has managed with any consequence. Holding the on-going spirit of those Clough days as his reference, and one of the few that still bears those secrets. Roy Keane perhaps another. Although the Clough of the 1990's was sadly not the same as the one that dominated Europe two decades previous. 

Albeit Cloughie could still obviously spot a class player from a 100 paces.

Whether this record constitutes grounds for O’Neill to be an International manager, and one who brings success, is anyones guess. The only factor in favour being he is now older and further down his career path that a part time jobs might seemingly work better. As such partnerships when taken earlier in the managerial apprenticeship, like Mark Hughes at Wales, Steve McLaren at England, don’t work. Or with Nigel Worthington at Northern Ireland another case in point. 

The FAI also wiser from their time with the playing legend that was Steve Staunton, during his time as Irish boss. 

Younger managers prefer the day to day action of club football and the long intervals at National level are very frustrating. At one time too the national jobs attracted lesser pay-packets. But those days have also changed. Especially at the FAI where they now offer princely sums for a managerial post and a backroom team. All rather disproportionate for a national side ranked 60th or so in the FIFA World Rankings.

But it is more as a pundit that O’Neill has gained household fame. Perhaps also as a former undergraduate of Law at Queens University, where he studied during his time at Distillery. Even though he never completed his studies the cerebral reputation has always followed him, as he is always thoughtful and unique in his perspective at times. A bonus which has kept him at the forefront of TV punditry when out of the managerial game. 

Undoubtedly that legacy of the Clough era - a man who thought, lived and worked football – also shared very clear views on how the game should be played with his apprentices. Many traits which O'Neill has inherited. Very particularly about the passing game. One very close to Clough’s heart. 

"If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there." 


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Why are Clubs so Keane on Roy


Roy Keane is box office. No doubt about it. 

But as a TV pundit where his clear views and willingness to voice strong opinions contrast sharply with some of his more bland PC studio colleagues. Making him a big draw for ITV Sport’s Champions League fixtures during the winter months. Promising much too for this month’s World Cup in Brazil. Until. Well, until he changed his mind.

His commercial value alongside Martin O’Neill in the backroom of the Republic of Ireland, was viewed as a marketing coup. However in classic Keane mode the recent headlines have been more of a PR headache as the Republic’s Assistant manager has been consistently linked with other vacant managerial positions. Ranging from Celtic to the most recent Aston Villa. The type of headlines though that were giving his current gaffer some annoyance during the trip to the USA.

"I think that he has enjoyed it here immensely - that obviously plays a part in his thinking," added the Republic boss.

"In the future, he will have loads of offers, as he has had in the past and in the immediate past," O'Neill said.

"Things like this here will crop up again, with a wee bit of luck. I'm not saying Celtic will, but that type of job will.

"Everything now at this minute is on the backburner in terms of all speculation, all that type of stuff. I don't really want to continue on with this until we come back from the United States."

In opting out of his ITV commitments ahead of a World Cup is bound to bring some reminiscence of a previous walk out. Albeit in less dramatic fashion than the infamy of Saipan, where in 2002 as a Manchester United player – at the peak of his game – left the Irish squad. Undoubtedly would also have proved that vital cog to a team that made it to the World Cup quarterfinals without him. Particularly, if he delivered performances similar to Lansdowne Road on September 1, 2001 against Louis van Gaal’s Holland. 

Although it is easy to see Keane’s value as a player, it is a manager that the value seems over stated. After all promotion was secured at Sunderland in his first season, then survival in year two, with year three more tumultuous. All ending in his resignation before Christmas 2008.

His next move to Ipswich Town in April 2009 was in a two year deal that saw him sacked within seventeen months. Leaving the ream no better than when he arrived and with his nemesis Mick McCarthy following in his footsteps to work miracles. In November, amidst much fanfare, Keane became part of the Football Associations Dream Team with Martin O’Neill as replacement for the departed Giovanni Trapattoni. 

Then over the six month mark O’Neill’s deputy is being linked with other offers. Lending weight to Sir Alex Ferguson’s comment when pressed by the media about Keane’s potential pedigree.

"Young managers come along and people say this one will be England manager or boss of this club, but two years later they're not there. It's not an easy environment to come into, I wouldn't forecast anything.”

So why were Celtic FC anxious to hire the Cork man? Or now supposedly Aston Villa. Or indeed a number of other clubs who seemingly have enquired about his services. The answer. He puts bums on seats it seems.

In Glasgow the void left after the departure of the highly regarded Neil Lennon will be hard to fill and with season tickets on sale, a Champions League qualifier due. Keane would have been a commercial catch. But he also would have been under pressure straightaway. Given Lennon has left a legacy to be fulfilled at the club - that exceeded Martin O'Neill's tenure - is one that an ambitious manager might be tempted. But for the long haul.

Many others would be fearful of taking on the task as recent seasons have seen Celtic set benchmarks that will be unbeatable in the short term. Having punched well beyond their weight outside the Scottish Premier League

Yet with little track record beyond Sunderland, and no CV that points to building strong squads, or a coaching pedigree second to none. Or some radical new formations, it seems that box office is exclusively where Keane adds value. 

Regardless last week the FAI released a short statement confirming Keane would be staying put.

"The Football Association of Ireland [today June 2] confirmed that Roy Keane will travel with the Republic of Ireland squad to the US after he decided not to pursue the informal talks that took place with Celtic any further."

Having been first touted at Old Trafford as a possible replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson, Roy Keane seemed on the fast track until that interview in 2005. A critical interview that caused much reaction within the club. Then at Keane’s suggestion, the players gathered to watch the interview. 

Afterwards, Keane stood up and rounded on Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Saar and assistant manager Carlos Quieroz - as Ferguson recalls in his book:

“Roy asked the players whether they had anything to say about what they had just seen. Edwin van der Sar said yes. He told Roy was out of line criticising his teammates. So Roy attacked Edwin. Who did he think he was, what did Edwin know about Manchester United? Van Nistelrooy, to his credit, piped up to support Van der Sar, so Roy rounded on Ruud. Then he started on Carlos. But he saved the best for me.” 

“‘You brought your private life into the club with your argument with Magnier,” Fergsuon wrote.

“At that point, players started walking out. What I noticed about Roy that day as I was arguing with him was that his eyes started to narrow, almost to wee black beads. It was frightening to watch. I never understood his obsession with the Rock of Gibraltar affair.

“After Roy had left, Carlos saw I was quite upset. ‘He needs to go, Carlos,’ I said. ‘One hundred per cent,’ he said. ‘Get rid of him.’”

In one interview Ferguson summarised Keane as follows: “The hardest part of Roy’s body is his tongue… It was frightening to watch. And I’m from Glasgow.”

Clearly Keane is box office on TV. The problem is everyone is chasing him for his dug out work. 

But so far there is little sign that is of equal quality.

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The Republic of Clough


Martin O'Neill is on the brink of becoming the new Republic of Ireland manager and is set to bring in Roy Keane as his assistant.

Former Sunderland, Celtic and Aston Villa boss O'Neill, 61, would succeed Giovanni Trapattoni in the post.

Ex-Manchester United midfielder Keane, 42, played 67 games for the Republic and managed Sunderland and Ipswich.

The Republic's next games are friendlies against Latvia on 15 November and Poland four days later.

The squad for those matches - the first of which is at home and the second away - will be named on Tuesday and O'Neill could be appointed by then.

Italian Trapattoni left in September after failing to lead the Republic to 2014 World Cup qualification.

Noel King took over on a caretaker basis for the qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan.

O'Neill was capped 64 times by Northern Ireland and, according to BBC reporter Pat Murphy, is ready to move into international management.

"He is very interested in the Ireland job and there seems no serious impediment to him agreeing terms in the next couple of days," said Murphy.

"Working with Keane intrigues him. He contacted Keane and was encouraged by his enthusiastic response."

Murphy added: "The Ireland players will have idolised Keane as youngsters and O'Neill will be a popular appointment in Ireland, given his success at Celtic a decade ago."

Keane caused controversy as captain when he quit the Republic squad before the 2002 World Cup after falling out with manager Mick McCarthy.

Former Republic and Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton told BBC Radio 5 live: "I'm involved in the process of bringing the manager in.

"At the moment there are a few things under way but until things are signed we just have to wait and see.

"Something, hopefully, in the next few days will come about."

Factfile
Guides Wycombe Wanderers to back-to-back promotion in 1993 and 1994
Quits as Norwich City boss after six months
Wins the League Cup with Leicester City in 1997 and 2000
Wins the domestic treble in his first season in charge of Celtic in 2000-2001
Guides Celtic to Uefa Cup final in 2003
Takes Aston Villa to League Cup final in 2010, losing to Manchester United
Sacked as Sunderland manager in March 2013 after failing to win any of his last eight games in charge

Martin.. Give us Some Memories



For a nation currently ranked 59th in the world we are not short of ambition in terms of our footballing expectations at international level. An expectation based on very little facts, too much imagination and an excess of hope. None of which was dampened seemingly by the events in the EURO 2012 when the Republic of Ireland was drawn in the 16 nation tournament in the same group as Croatia, Italy and Spain. The telling facts showed our players far inferior in every aspect with the telling results in each of those matches confirming the same. Leaving the apologist’s extolling the idea that against the world champions little more could have been expected. Or the rationale that Italy were world champions in 2006. With some more tame remarks when explaining away the Croatia result. 

All a far cry from that potentially great night against Spain in Suwon when against ten men Ireland missed a chance to clinch a quarterfinal place. Only to lose on penalties in the end to a scabby one from Spain's normally majestic Gaizko Mendieta, along with a miss from the usually reliable Matt Holland. Even more remarkable as it was on foot of the now tired football civil war tale that was Saipan. 

None of which saved Mick McCarthy from an ignominious exit in the end as exaggerated national expectations could not be met in the EURO2004 campaign and he was replaced by the youth miracle worker, Brian Kerr. An appointment that filled the ballroom in The Shelbourne Hotel as it was hailed as a defining moment in Irish soccer with one of the nation's own taking the reins. 

But as history recalls, a Thierry Henry goal yet again - this time in Lansdowne Road - ended that dream with Kerr now living out in punditryland far removed from the beautiful game. Along with Eoin Hand who had his time in the 1980’s with the national team in those twilight years prior to Jack Charlton and the Holy Grail of EURO 1988 - all courtesy of Gary McKay’s unlikely goal for Scotland in the winter of 1987 against Bulgaria. 

Which for those who fans who marched to the Neckarstadion in June 1988 along the banks of the Rhine was irrelevant as it offered a chance to do battle against an England of Peter Shilton; Trevor Stevens; Kenny Sansom; Neil Webb; Mark Wright; Tony Adams; Bryan Robson; Chris Waddle; Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker. All household names to Irish football viewers and all big enough thanks to Match of the Day to shiver your timbers.

But such is the beauty of sport that Ray Houghton ended that national sense of fear, as he did again in 1994, allowing Republic of Ireland fans suddenly to believe. Perhaps too much.... 

So much so that Ronnie Whelan's shinned goal against Russia a few days later - which put Ireland into the lead - nearly sent the nation into orbit. A place we do not seem to have returned from since the Charlton team reached the quarterfinals in Italia 90, courtesy of Packie Bonner's penalty save in Genoa. And David O’ Leary’s magic goal a few moments later. 

The euphoria only to be repeated in Giants Stadium in New York four years later when the might of another footballing superpower was again undone by a cheeky goal from Houghton. Ably supported it has to be said by some cataclysmic defensive work from Paul McGrath – and the sorcerer’s apprentice at the time, Phil Babb. The legend that was Jack though was finally unravelled at Anfield one cold December night in a play-off with Holland for the EURO 96. The defeat leaving man fans dreams extinguished. 

For a time it was a taste of real life as the Republic struggled to find their way back to the big time. Something Mick McCarthy finally set right in 2001 winning the play off against Iran which took the Republic of Ireland to Japan and Korea. A major tournament for the first time in eight years and only the third world cup. 

It was a result that reignited Irish fans sense of entitlement with a trip to the far blue Asian yonder which saw them squeeze out the group and into the knockout stages. Despite being drawn with Cameroon Saudi Arabia and Germany. Only to fall against Spain that hot summer night in Korea.

With the era of Stephen Staunton now almost air brushed out of Irish footballing folklore, it proved a sad demise for one of the longest serving premier league players of his era. Who with the now departed Bobby Robson compounded the expectations for the fans even when faced with the might of Germany at Croke Park. Having been close to the situation at the time it was sad to see an Irish legend undo the goodwill that had been earned over decades at Liverpool and Aston Villa. But such is football, and the likes of minnows Cyprus, that his name is probably only equalled in many ways by Kerr who did much to put the youth game on the world map. But was unable to transfer similar success at senior level as those needed results could not be delivered.

As FIFA rightly reminded the Republic of Ireland this week with the ranking, the nation is way down on a global scale. No matter what Sky Sports tell us about the Premier League week in and week out, Irish players are increasingly less relevant at the top clubs. Which in a sense is a red herring given that 65% of teams are populated with non-English players, as the top teams barely reliant on players from these islands. Be they Irish Scottish Welsh or English such is the transfer game now. Excluding the unprecedented Gareth Bale move to Real Madrid. 

Indeed, long gone are those Arsenal days on Match of the Day of Liam Brady, Dave O’Leary and Frank Stapleton. Or even the golden oldies of Gerry Daly, Ashley Grimes at Manchester United. Or Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge at Liverpool. Such is the game now that Irish players are much further down the food chain.

Hence Giovanni Trapattoni was limited in his options. Or more limited than some previous national managers who benefited from a raft of gifted players that seemed to prove a seismic force on any given day. The dismantling of Holland on September 1st 2001 a vivid example of the possible dream with Ireland as the team undid Edwin Van der Sar, Jaap Stam, Philip Cocu, Marco Van Bommel, Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Albeit the nation came very close at Stade de France in 2009 against France in the second leg play off- had it not been for the hand of God. Or Monsieur Thierry Henry that night. 

However that was the sole night of elation that Il Trap could rustle up over five years, depriving the national sport those moments that live long in the memory. Instead proffering a litany of score draws and vacuous victories that were boring to behold and testing to follow. Even that rainy night in Bari against Italy, which could have been a cracker had we the courage to chase the win. But such is the defensive mind-set that colours Trapattoni's view of the game it proves diametrically opposed to the football so prevalent today. Or that played by Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, or Juergen Klopp of BVB Dortmund. Their philosophy being, we will always score more goals than the opposition and won't obsess with defending. 

Thankfully Champions League at the knockout stages is about that and it is no surprise that the likes of Juventus struggle in the tournament every year. Clearly the Italian ways work in Serie A, even if it is not as pronounced these days as was practiced by Il Trap during his years there. 

In truth Irish football followers live for those days in Stuttgart 1988, Genoa 1990, New York 1994 or Ibaraki 2002. Games where the impossible happens even against the footballing aristocracy. With Trapattoni there were none of those moments which most other managers this century were able to produce at some stage. As were the many ones that made 1966 World Cup winner Jack Charlton the most loved English man in these parts 

Now for those of who know little about Martin O’Neill, he too helped bring such moments to his people as a player. In fact Northern Ireland pre-empted the Chariton era in Valencia in 1982, when Gerry Armstrong scored the goal that shocked the hosts Spain in their opening world cup match. A goal that sent O'Neill’s team into the second stage group where they were unhinged by a France side that contained the best In Europe at the time; Dominique Rochteau, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, François Battiston, Marius Tresor, Manuel Amoros and Jean Tigana. 

Nonetheless Northern Ireland gave their fans a lift that has yet to be equalled, despite also qualifying for Mexico 1986.

One has to believe that running through his mind when deciding about the FAI job is that he could give the Republic of Ireland one of those moments again. Or at least get the players to believe in such a moment,

Don’t forget too with Nottingham Forest he also won two Champions League trophies beating Malmo in 1978 and then Kevin Keegan’s HSV Hamburg in 1979. Memories that fans in Sherwood Forest still talk about.

#SWEIRL


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