Football

'Players Will Be Disappointed At The Moment That Their Manager Hasn’t Shown Real Commitment'

'Players Will Be Disappointed At The Moment That Their Manager Hasn’t Shown Real Commitment'

Now that the FAI has weathered the storm, the emphasis returns to what now happens amid the calm. What is finally certain after a turbulent, vacillating week is that Martin O'Neill remains the Irish manager.

O'Neill turned down Stoke, although the club did appoint a man who won the European Cup as a player, coached Wycombe, Norwich and Aston Villa with experience of being assisted by Roy Keane: Paul Lambert.

The most pressing business for manager and employers back here is the formalising of the verbal agreement O'Neill apparently cited as reason for not taking the Stoke job. All parties were silent amid the speculation, with O'Neill even going as far as turning up at the Soccer Writers' banquet without speaking to his hosts.

Speaking at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme, ex-Irish international Keith Andrews has called on O'Neill and the FAI to clarify the events of last week, admitting that he was "disappointed" at how it played out.

I was critical of the [Denmark] performance, but in terms of Martin’s reign, I think it’s been a success. The last week has been very disappointing. If I was a current player, I’d be disappointed how it has played out, because it’s been radio silence, hasn’t it?

We haven’t heard anything, and we’ve had to wait for little titbits of news. It has been disappointing, and ultimately Martin has to come out and say what’s gone on. If it is the fact that he was tempted back into club management at Premier League level, and he gives us that honesty about it, I think that’s fair enough.

I do think he needs to come out and explain what he was tempted by and how close he was, because we need that bit of trust built up again for us all to move forward. It’s been doom and gloom since the middle of November, so we need a bit of positivity to move forward.

Speaking last week, Richard Dunne accentuated the potentially detrimental impact on the squad's morale the entire farrago could deal. Andrews agreed that, while the last week's proceedings won't have escaped the attention of the players, it will likely fade into the ether once the cut and thrust of matchdays loom on the horizon.

I think the players will be disappointed at the moment that their manager hasn’t shown real commitment, and there’s been an uncertain week, but it won’t have affected their club form. I think by the time, if it pans out that Martin is absolutely going to stay and is committed to the next two years, the players will get back to basics and get on with it.

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A constant thread through recent media reports regarding O'Neill's future is the fact he was upset with the severity of the criticism that came his way it in the wake of the Denmark defeat. O'Neill has never been one to take such flak lying down, as Andrews knows well. In the wake of the drawing of Denmark in the playoffs (once upon a time, we were happy to draw them), Andrews remarked of O'Neill's luck that "at the moment, if Martin fell in muck, he'd still smell of Old Spice". O'Neill responded that "“I like Keith but do you know what, that’s, do you know, I have to turn around and say that’s complete bollocks".

Is Andrews surprised at how sensitive O'Neill is to criticism?

Sometimes he can be. Obviously he’s that type. I think his reign has been a success: getting us to the Euros; nearly getting us to the World Cup. He is very much entitled to have a little bite back, whether that’s off me or off Tony O’Donoghue or whoever. It’s his prerogative to bite back, I very much wouldn’t be into getting into a slanging match. He’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do, and that’s fine.

I think in this instance, he won’t be worrying about coming back in and signing the contract, I think he’s got thicker skin than that. But I think in a couple of weeks we’ll have moved on from this particular episode.

O'Neill faces somewhat of a rebuilding job ahead of Euro 2020, the pan-European competition which includes Dublin among the host cities. It is expected that a number of the current squad will retire, with O'Neill's next task likely the overseeing of a transitional period while at the same time qualifying for Euro 2020.

Andrews believes he is the right man for that job, although sounds caution regarding the squad he may have at his disposal:

I have faith in him getting us to Euro 2020 and I do think we are going to go through a transitional period, but I don’t think it can be a vast one.

The nucleus of the squad will stay together, I’d like a little bit of clarity on who’s going to retire and if some of the elder statesmen can do another 18 months.

Can their bodies live up to it or do they need that downtime during the international breaks to prolong their club careers? That needs to be sorted out in the coming months.

I’d imagine some of the U21s will come in and around the squad and if there’s any exceptional talents a little bit lower than that, maybe don’t start them or cap them but have them around training sessions for that bit of integration.

I do think we need a bit more positivity around and to be excited by something. That may well be someone who has been on the periphery of the squad or someone who has been in the squad but hasn’t shone yet that will get their opportunity.

I watch games every single weekend in England and I’m not seeing 10 players that aren’t in the squad that should be in there -- that’s what I will stress.

Capping Declan Rice is necessary, says Andrews, and also makes a case for a couple of left-backs: Preston's Greg Cunningham and Wolves' Matt Doherty.

Register for the SPAR5s by February 9th at www.fai.ie/primary5 

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Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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