On November 5th, 2013, Martin O’Neill was announced as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland, succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni. His appointment was generally met with approval across the nation and hopes of qualification for Euro 2016 began to rise.
However, with just four games left of a so far underwhelming qualifying campaign, Ireland’s chances of participating in France next summer are quickly diminishing. Mathematically, it’s all to play for given that O’Neill’s side are just two points behind their main rivals Scotland for third place.
Wins against Georgia and Gibraltar should be a guarantee, but it appears unlikely that Ireland will better the Scots’ results against group front-runners Poland and Germany.
Performances to date have done little to inspire any hopes of a late revival and the customary feeling of ultimate disappointment looms. Amid the apparent acceptance amongst sections of Irish support that their fate has already been sealed, recent rumors surrounding Martin O’Neill’s future as Ireland manager leave a bitter taste.
Reports in the last week have suggested that O’Neill is being lined up to take the helm at former club Leicester City after Nigel Pearson was axed. From a personal gain point of view, perhaps he would be wise to take up the opportunity of a return to Premier League management, given the struggles of his current post. But O’Neill owes his current employers a fight to the finish in the race for the European Championships. A departure at this stage of the campaign would be a cowardly move.
While not blessed with an array of world-class players to pick from, Martin O’Neil has no right to feel sorry for himself. There appears to be a degree of inexplicable empathy towards him, a feeling that he’s exempt from any blame.
His performance as Ireland manager has been lacklustre, but instead of the usual finger pointing at the manager, the blame has been shouldered mostly by his players and their inadequacy. O’Neill’s job is to get the best out his players and set them up in the most productive manner.
His failure to do so shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly when the likes of Gordon Strachan and Michael O’Neill are succeeding with lesser resources for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.
In the most recent International round of fixtures, Ireland’s squad included 14 players who played in the Premier League last season. Compare that number to eight in Scotland’s squad and just 5 in Northern Ireland’s and it provides further proof of O’Neill’s failings.
Watching Ireland under O’Neill’s guidance has been frustrating to say the least. The team appears devoid of ideas and lacking of any kind of identity.
It seems strange, given the 63-year-old’s success throughout his career, that he’s failing to maximize his teams potential. O’Neill has always had clear methods during his spells at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa. He has consistently over achieved, particularly with Aston Villa, producing a side which regularly threatened to break into the top four.
As Ireland boss, O’Neill could draw on a number of strengths but has yet to exercise them. Star men James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman’s influence on games seems to wane in a green shirt, compared to the blue of Everton, while Shane Long, the Irish player currently playing at the highest level, fails to even earn a regular starting berth under O’Neill.
The Southampton striker divides opinion but there’s a reason for Ronald Koeman’s regular use of the former Reading man. Although not blessed with prolificacy in front of goal, his pace can prove a thorn in the opposition’s defences. He also provides an aerial threat and with the crossing ability of players like Robbie Brady and James Maclean, he’d be sure to cause problems.
Wes Hoolahan’s vision adds to O’Neill’s arsenal of utilities while the invention of the mercurial Aiden McGeady has also yet to be exploited by the Ireland boss.
The resources are there, Martin O’Neill has the means to win games for Ireland and the complacency surrounding his failings as Ireland manager must end. Jumping ship now and leaving his players stranded would be unfair. O’Neill must reinvent his tenure and finish off the job he was tasked with.