Football

10 Years On, Is Steve Staunton's Reign Too Harshly Judged?

10 Years On, Is Steve Staunton's Reign Too Harshly Judged?

It's ten years since Steve Staunton told the underwhelmed gentlemen and ladies of the press that, regardless of the undermining presence of Bobby Robson, he was the gaffer, he was the man, and whatever he said went.

As was customary at the time, John Delaney promised a world class manager (every thing was 'world class' this and that in Ireland in the mid-noughties) following the somewhat divisive decision to dispense with Brian Kerr.

By the time they unveiled the Staunton/Robson arrangement this had morphed into 'world class management team'. It was apparent that Bobby Robson supplied the world class bit even if he wasn't going to be doing any management. 

In light of Delaney's grand promises, the appointment of the Walsall assistant coach was received coolly. The undoubted stature of the 'International Football Consultant' failed to mollify the pressmen (who were never inclined to cut Delaney slack even at the best of times).

During his traumatic two year reign as Ireland manager, Steve Staunton turned from Irish footballing legend into a pathetic figure of ridicule. The wheel has turned a little in recent years as the memory of his time in charge has dimmed. But there was poison in the air at the time. He displayed a moving stoicism in the face of it all.

The Irish red-tops adopted some of the spirit of their English sister papers as they sought to turn Stan into an Irish Graham Taylor. After Ireland's cheek-reddening 2-1 win away in San Marino, one led with the headline 'Minnows 1 Muppets 2', an infinitely less witty effort than 'Swedes 2 Turnips 1' fifteen years earlier.

It was two days after that game that the nadir was reached.

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With a general election only months away, the Late Late Show invited a UK body language expert on to assess the behaviour and physical ticks of the party leaders.

Towards the end of the slot, they pulled out a clip of a sheepish looking Stan fronting up before the accusing faces of the press corps following the San Marino game.

With his shoulders hunched and his face white with terror, Staunton tried to energise the assembled by saying that Ireland are 'usually strong in March'. The normally reserved Late Late Show broke into cruel laughter before the body language expert could deliver his assessment. It was clear that Stan had become a laughing stock.

Ironically, Ireland did turn out to be strong in March. Six points were taken from two games in Croke Park. The first of these, over Wales, received a rather sniffy response from the football public, as if a 1-0 win over Wales was something we were entitled to turn up our nose at.

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The victory over Slovakia a few days later generated real approval and was the undoubted high point of Staunton's reign. The prospect of Ireland qualifying for Euro 2008 became plausible again, if not exactly probable.

In early September, Ireland entered injury time leading Slovakia 2-1, the same Slovakia that dumped Italy out of the 2010 World Cup. Had they held out, they would have remained only one point behind the Czech Republic.

The draw in Slovakia - taken in isolation a good result - was greeted with dismay as it effectively killed off Ireland's qualification chances. The subsequent 1-0 loss away to the Czech Republic extinguished the flickering flame. Most supporters had long abandoned hope and were past the point of disappointment.

Was Staunton's reign really as bad as it is remembered?

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By any measure it was better than Trap's final campaign. Ireland, at least, garnered a significant win in Stan's campaign and weren't humiliated by an admittedly inferior Germany side in Lansdowne Road.

He also had to cope with some rather unique problems, notably Steven Ireland's stubborn determination to prematurely announce the death of one of or both of his grannies, as well as the alarming spectacle of a man pulling a gun on him in the pre-match build up to the Czech Republic game.

He also achieved third place in the group while blooding young players. Unfortunately, one of these young players was Stephen Ireland. Others went on to have lengthier Ireland careers. Stephen Hunt, Darren Gibson, Stephen Quinn, Paul McShane and Shane Long all got their start under Staunton.

During some of the bleaker nights watching Trap's Ireland, some might have felt nostalgic for Stan's relatively freewheeling - some might say, chaotic - approach.

Following his dismissal, the historian Richard Aldous, appearing on Questions and Answers, tenaciously argued that Steve Staunton did a better job than his predecessor Brian Kerr on the grounds that Kerr took Ireland to fourth place in their qualifying group for Germany 2006 while Staunton led Ireland to third in his campaign. He wasn't the only one to make this argument.

The computer that decides the seedings in UEFA certainly saw nothing wrong with Stan's reign. Ireland began the Euro 2008 qualifiers as fourth seeds. Thanks to Staunton's efforts, they would enter the next qualifying campaign as third seeds.

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In defending his tenure, Staunton clung to this fact, insisting that Ireland had achieved their objectives in finishing third (It should be noted here that this objective was not loudly trumpeted at the beginning of the campaign).

In truth, this argument which ignores the peculiarly tight nature of Ireland's 2006 qualifying group and the fact that Stan's Ireland were out of contention long before the end.

In general, Stan's Ireland era is remembered for it's most embarrassing nights and the poison that hung in the air in the days following. That he eventually finished third in the group and improved Ireland's seeding for future campaigns is treated as a statistical anomaly.

Read more: Why We All Owe Steve Staunton An Apology

 

 

 

 

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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