Opinion: Now is not the time, but if you want a management change, at least get the rationale right as to why.
A lot has been made of the post-match interview between Martin O Neill and Tony O’Donoghue on Saturday night – a stung O’Neill, almost certainly embarrassed, proceeded to cut the seasoned RTE interviewer down with verbal stabs, each one to the squirms of a depressed on-looking nation.
This feud between the two has had its rounds before, but the culmination of it being a Saturday night (prime-time tv), post-90 minutes of the worst football we’ve seen under the Derryman, and now, a seemingly flickering, World Cup dream – the RTE man was going to become a symbol and vehicle of something much bigger than a (let’s be honest) small spat: a new #Out brigade, #ONeillOut.
Nature of International Management
International football management has generally been a more forgiving arena than it’s club equivalent. The highly dispersed fixture list leads to column-inches and general discussion waning once the Premier League kicks off again - agendas lose momentum - and before you know it, a further year has passed. CEO’s (ours in particular), reluctant to write severance cheques to unwanted managers, also love the prolonged ability to cite - and perhaps even believe - that “its still all in our own hands”, as a way to bat off any growing pressure to act.
But this tide has turned quicker than usual – the agenda’s are real and growing quicker in voice than ever.
Whatever you feel about it, this is now part of football, primarily due to the “digital age” but also a much less patient fan-base where success is the only route to survival - so whilst we will avoid getting involved, we will at least say: for fuck sake, if you want a change, at least get the rationale right as to why.
You have the mainstream media, doing as they do – controversial opinions win website clicks - you have the amateur fancy-boys and click-baits sprouting their tactical geniuses and agendas, fed by the retweets and digital encouragement of the generally angry and (let’s be honest) misinformed ‘fan’ (one quick twitter search, a case in point: “Bring on Scott Hogan @FAIreland oh wait that clueless c*nt O’Neill didn’t pick him #ONeillOut” – clueless c*nt, indeed).
But, let’s be clear, although we’d like a polite and respectful manager that teaches us of his mind and reasoning, even in his lowest hour, that trait doesn’t even make the nice-to-haves on the third page of the job description for the Irish Manager – and, additionally, whilst tactics are important in international football, they don't hold the same value as they do in club football due to the time you have to mould, the number of consistent games you play, and the wonderful ability to buy and sell players to fit your ideas.
Tactics in international football revolve mainly around personnel, their positioning, and finding the best possible balance of the two.
So, with that, the only agenda that warrants an even remote question of this management team at this stage is as follows: (i) the lack of consistency in finding and sticking with the best side, and (ii) getting the best out of our supposed better players.
The B-word Dilemma
Reading some of the 'brigades' dissections the Serbian game last night, it is, in ways, humorous to see them try to spin the performance or managerial decisions in the game as further evidence of a need to rid of O’Neill. The result certainly gives them encouragement, but the performance, shape or tactics used, absolutely not. The team was a typical Martin O’Neill bold choice in a must-win game (for what it’s worth, it wasn’t “must-win”) - we got the opportunities, we got in good positions, we extracted the high-energy that was missing in Tbilisi, we got players in the box, and in support – but it was our final balls, set pieces, and finishing that were sub-par. Tactics will only get you to that final ball – it’s quality, confidence, and ability that will convert from there. O’Neill, as far as I’m concerned, is exempt from criticism here, even if you could argue he might have used his substitutes better.
But what does frustrate, is O’Neill’s continued misuse of one four letter b-word (“bold”) for another (“best”). Nearly 4 years in the job now, 42 games in charge, and whilst his greatest accolade (to his credit, there are a few), is bringing big-wins, big-moments, back to Irish football - the song “you’ll never beat the Irish” no longer feels bloodied with irony – his greatest criticism is how he fails to build thereafter. Why, for example – after decade-defining wins against Italy, Bosnia, Austria, Germany, and very good performances scattered in between (result aside, last night was one of them) - we are still in a position where we’re seeing Glenn Whelan play ahead of David Meyler? Why in God’s name we would continue to throw Shane Long up top on his own after his Belgian destruction? Why is Brady being whored out to every attacking role possible, when he continues to be ineffective in them all since the Euro’s? What the hell is up with Jeff Hendrick, and similar to Brady, where exactly are you going to play him next? And why is Wes Hoolahan not central to absolutely everything we do?!
How many times, in fact, do you have to achieve great success from a “bold” team and tactical approach for you not to realise that maybe, just maybe, BOLD is actually BEST?
Serbia, last night, was no more of a must-win than Georgia on Saturday night – or Moldova, or Wales in Dublin, etc. This is international football, it’s not a 40-odd game season. It’s no great wonder that, so-called, smaller nations like Georgia can do one over on us – they approach ALL games with a “bold” approach. They’ve nothing to lose. They don’t “go for it” in one, and play conservatively in the next. If we can beat Germany, or Italy, then Georgia, can most definitely bridge the smaller gap in quality that exists between us and them.
In fact, what, honestly, does playing conservatively ever achieve in international football? There’s no relegation. There’s no £100M tv money for finishing mid-table. There's no Europa League. What is it exactly that we’re afraid of?
Conservatism is the greatest risk in modern day international football. It rarely pays dividends, but always breeds criticism – even when you win.
Even with all these things considered, now is still most certainly not the time for a fan-backed revolt for change of management though, we’re sure of that – and one thing we did learn last night is that the players seem to also agree. But it is time to start realising that bold may in fact mean best. And if the manager is not comfortable with that approach, then perhaps there are valid questions to be asked of how he can take us to the next level during a long summer of watching other, bolder, nations compete in the World Cup – and, that is, of course, if O’Neill doesn’t get there beforehand (remember, he’s walked on 2 coaching roles before, and nearly a third were it not for fans pleading he remain), he may very well be the Treasurer of the #ONeillOut brigade before we know it – so be careful what you wish for.
But what is certain is that we have two games left. And whether you’re CEO of the FAI or not, second place is still in our own hands.
Miss out, and our next stab at the World Cup will be 2020. 18 years since our last appearance.
It’s not about Martin O’Neill. Or Tony O'Donoghue. Or tactics. It’s about THAT fact, alone: 18 years.
That’s a life sentence.
Lets back the fucking team.