When Stephen Kenny took the Ireland job, he had a clear mandate of what he wanted to do with the team: bring through young players and get the side playing a progressive brand of football.
The first of those goals was easily achieved, introducing a huge number of talented young footballers during his time in charge. The second one was less straightforward, although there were signs over the latter half of 2021 that the team was travelling in the right direction.
After consecutive managers opting to play a more basic style of football, bringing Ireland into the 21st century in terms of their playing style was never going to be easy. However, the strides towards doing so have captured some attention on the continent.
Speaking ahead of their meeting with Ireland this evening, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez admitted that he has been impressed with what Stephen Kenny has done with the side during his time in charge.
I think it’s one of the great stories in international football, because when you’re managing at international level you’ve got two choices: you try to bring your best performance and compete or create an idea of play and almost work like you would do at club level and then that takes time.
But they have clear concepts and clear ways of trying to get the players to enjoy it, and that’s what Stephen Kenny has done. It is very recognisable the way that Ireland play.
It’s very brave, attack-minded, clear on their system and I think he’s getting rewards. You have to be patient because it takes time.
It’s a longer time at international level to be able to get those relationships and that understanding on the football pitch.
But I’m looking at the record of Ireland in the last 10 games and I think it speaks volumes of the style of play, he’s bringing the strengths of the players to the next level which has been very interesting to follow from abroad.
Ireland have certainly put a greater emphasis on an attacking style of play under the current manager, something he will be hoping yields positive results further down the line.
A good result against Belgium this evening would be further affirmation that the team is making progress.