As is often the case with the #GreatestLeagueInTheWorld (for new readers on the League of Ireland, that hashtag is of course totally tongue-in-cheek), the main story of the week came, once again, off the field of play.
Dundalk were in action in the first qualifying round of the Champions League on Wednesday night against Slovenian champions FC Celje. The Lilywhites were very unlucky to lose the game 3-0 and Vinny Perth was relieved of his duties as manager barely 24 hours later.
Perth’s side dominated large portions of the game, Pat Hoban had a header which hit the post and Michael Duffy had two chances one-on-one with the goalkeeper which he screwed wide.
The reigning League of Ireland champions conceded three terrible goals though. With defending like that, they’ll struggle to progress through the next round of the Europa League. The consensus has been that the decision to relieve Perth of his duties was extremely harsh however.
While Dundalk’s form this year hasn’t been up to their usual high standards since Perth came in as assistant manager some eight years ago, he surely deserved at the very least to see out the rest of the season is the widely held opinion.
The 44-year-0ld after all did lead the Lilywhites to four domestic trophies in 2019 (and was an FAI Cup final penalty shoot-out away from winning all five domestic trophies) in what were challenging circumstances having taken over the number one hotseat from the massively successful Stephen Kenny who went into the Ireland international set-up in November 2018.
Dundalk’s owners, multi-billion dollar Chicago owned investment company Peak 6 (who also have an interest in clubs such as Bournemouth) have taken an interest in Dundalk from a progression in Europe perspective – and of course the potential vast revenues that can come from that.
In 2019, Perth guided the Lilywhites, who were seeded, to a penalty shootout win over Riga in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. They were knocked out of the Champions League by Qarabağ on a 4-1 aggregate score. Dundalk proceeded to lose 4-1 on aggregate Slovan Bratislava in the third round of the Europa League which saw their interest in European end for 2019. That was a tie that, like last Wednesday, saw the Lilywhites miss several very good goalscoring chances.
At the time of writing, Dundalk are nine points adrift of the summit of the League of Ireland Premier Division table (albeit with a game in hand), with 10 domestic games to play. On current form, it looks very unlikely that Dundalk will be playing in the Champions League next season.
Former Manchester City coach, Mark Burton, who has had some serious disciplinary issues in the UK, was drafted into the Dundalk coaching setup earlier this year and it is possible that he could manage the club until the end of the season.
Burton has been observing Dundalk matches over recent weeks and it is understood that Perth has become tired of being undermined by his employers. It is also believed that player recruitment and team selections were being taken out of Perth’s hands in recent times in a situation that was becoming untenable for the Tallaght native.
Speaking on RTÉ television on Friday evening, less than 24 hours after being relieved of his duties at Dundalk, Perth said: “It wasn’t a real shock to lose my job. I had a brief discussion with the chairman last night. It’s been a difficult time for the club on and off the pitch for a number of months.
“Things happening in the background haven’t been good enough. Ultimately, we haven’t been good enough on the pitch.
“There’s no doubt there was a difference of opinion on where we were as a club and where we need to move forward. We had a difference of opinion. I have to respect that.
“People will say ultimately that the decision is down to losing in the first round of the Champions League qualifiers. It’s not. It’s a bigger decision than that and that’s fine.”
It is believed that the owner’s interference in team selection, Perth’s frustration with that and his refusal to bow to the owner’s wishes on that issue is also a major factor in Perth’s departure from the club. The fact that Perth and many players would be out-of-contract at the end of this season with no assurances on potential new contracts has also been an issue.
These issues, along with the fact that Oriel Park still remains terribly outdated and largely dilapidated must be matters of concern to fans of the Lilywhites, who have been unanimous in their disapproval of the removal of Perth from his job at the club.
It is believed that Peak 6 have an eye on recruiting Robbie Keane as a potential head coach of the Lilywhites. That strikes this observer as the US company simply seeking to employ a “big name” without putting in much thought because there can be little doubt that Keane simple doesn’t have anywhere near the requisite experience or expertise to take on such a role.
In my opinion, people such as former Sligo Rovers manager Paul Cook, who recently left his role at Wigan Athletic or Bohemians’ manager Keith Long should be in the running but it is thought that neither have been considered.