Monday, May 20, 2024

April fools: Irish football a laughing stock as sorry managerial saga drags on

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The ‘tip-off’ yesterday from a reliable contact in German football was akin to a thunderbolt.

‘Jurgen Klopp is to become the next manager of the Republic of Ireland. It will be announced by the FA of Ireland later this month. Ignore all the other noise,’ he said.

As I scrambled to make sense of the sensational news, my friend provided context.

He told me how Klopp, exhausted by his club demands, had been assessing his options since revealing on January 26 he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season.

Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool, appeals to an assistant referee during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City at Anfield on March 10, 2024 in Liverpool, England. Pic: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

The part-time aspect of international football greatly appeals to him, he said.

Also, he continued, he’s from Stuttgart, and the impressions made by the Irish supporters there in the finals of Euro 1988 have never left him.

‘He feels an affinity to Ireland. He saw Whelan, Houghton and Aldridge, play against England that day in the Neckerstadion and has been obsessed with the deep Liverpool-Ireland connection,’ he added.

Republic of Ireland’s Charlie O’Leary, left and Ray Houghton celebrate after defeating England. European Championship Finals 1988, Group B, Republic of Ireland v England, Neckarstadion, Stuttgart, Germany. Pic: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Aware the FAI was searching for a new manager, Klopp discreetly reached out via an intermediary and made himself available, but not until June 1, according to my source.

‘Jurgen is planning for his final game as Liverpool manager to be in Dublin on May 22 for the Europa League final. It’s the perfect stage for ‘auf wiedersehen und willkommen’, said my friend.

‘He is excited about leading your boys out against England in the Nations League in September. He believes Ireland would be perfect for him to begin the next phase of his career.’

But the FAI is broke, it couldn’t possible afford Klopp, I blurted.

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

‘Don’t worry.

Jurgen is not motivated by money. The FA of Ireland told him they had a new sponsor and could offer a performance-related deal. All is in place.’

Alles ist fertig. My Leaving Cert German came back to me briefly. I was stunned.

Jurgen for Ireland. Not Carsley, not Poyet, not Sagnol, not Keano, but Klopp. The big, bearded Bavarian with the charismatic personality and a star-studded CV.

Of course, in all the excitement, it took me a while to remember the day that was in it.

A day for pranks and wind-ups — after a weekend of revelations with more red herrings than a morning haul in Howth.

The words from the Paul Simon song, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover keep coming into my head, tweaked for Irish managers past, and possibly future, too.

‘You just slip out the back, Jack Make a new plan, Stan, You don’t need to be coy, Roy Just get yourself free Hop on the bus, Gus, You don’t need to discuss much Just drop off the key, Lee, And get yourself free.’

I’ve long felt Gus Poyet was stringing the FAI along, using them as leverage for a new deal with the Greeks.

Ireland Gus Poyet
Manager Gus Poyet during a Greece training session at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Also, I couldn’t fathom why the FAI would offer Poyet a deal that hinged on Greece losing their Euro 2024 play-off?

Would any top club, or any leading football association, offer a manager’s job to someone on the condition that they lose a game? Surely, not.

And the same applied to Georgia coach Willie Sagnol, or ‘Willie Spag Bol’ as I heard him called over the weekend.

Was the FAI really waiting on the outcome of that play-off before a grand announcement? Talk about putting your Easter eggs into one basket.

Lee Carsley Ireland manager job
Lee Carsley of Republic of Ireland in action during the International Friendly match against Russia played at Lansdowne Road, in Dublin, Ireland. Pic: Michael Steele /Allsport

I’d always felt Lee Carsley held ‘the key’ for the job but he stayed loyal to the England Under 21s, where he’s under contract.

With ‘Geezer’ out of the running and Poyet hopping on the bus, I felt it was time for the FAI to stop being coy about Roy.

Firstly, the man is a legend in football. Secondly, he’s available. And thirdly, he wants the job. He would shake up the dressing room with his presence alone.

And yet, the FAI’s head-hunters, ruled him out while waiting for Gus, or maybe Willie, to alight at Lansdowne Road and have their ticket punched walking into the Aviva Stadium.

I awoke yesterday feeling rather weary about the lengthy process to find a new manager, and a little disillusioned, too.

26 March 2024; Republic of Ireland interim head coach John O’Shea before the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Pic: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

In my mind, the Poyet retreat pushed John O’Shea, decent skin and interim boss recently, to the fore.

Only a thought nagged at me. Would the FAI go for O’Shea, who wasn’t on its master interview sheet, and has two games on his managerial CV.

Keano has a lot more than that and he also had three chats with the FAI about the job. Keano, with O’Shea, Brian Kerr and Co too. I liked the thought of that.

But that had all changed after the morning phone call. After my friend’s astonishing news about Klopp, I put on the kettle for a badly needed cup of tea.

Waiting for it to boil, It struck me how the FAI so often made a mess of appointing a manager. Bob Paisley was supposed to get the job over Jack Charlton.

Paddy Mulligan lost out narrowly to Eoin Hand because an FAI blazer thought Mulligan had once thrown a bun at him on a bus on an away trip.

Kevin Moran missed out to Mick McCarthy in 1996 because one of the selection committee didn’t turn up for the vote.

As for the 2018 succession stakes, with McCarthy back to hold the fort until Stephen Kenny followed him, that was a cockamamie idea by the FAI to beat them all.

Yet, here they were, after all that’s gone on, about to land the catch of all time in Klopp.

What was it Fergie said back in 1999? Oh yeah, football eh, bloody hell.

I wondered how long it has been since Stephen Kenny departed and checked the calendar on the kitchen wall.

Kenny left on November 22, all of 131 days ago, through November, December, January, February, March until yesterday, April 1.

We look like the ultimate April fools.

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