After another lacklustre international break from the boys in green, what will be the outcome for Stephen Kenny as Republic of Ireland manager?
With the Irish Times reporting that a ‘break clause’ is included in the 51-year-old’s two-year contract extension, which would see Kenny lose his job should Ireland be out of contention for qualification before Greece’s visit to Dublin in October pressure is mounting.
The stats don’t make pretty reading, with only four wins from 23 games and aspirations of qualifying for Euro 2024 more or less doomed after a 2-1 defeat to Greece.
A moral-boosting 3-0 victory over Gibraltar will paint over some of the cracks, but with France away and the Dutch at home in the following games, questions will be asked whether the former Dundalk man is the right man for the job.
Is it a tactical problem based on the Greece game? The team couldn’t keep possession of the ball in midfield for the vast majority of the game while. If it wasn’t for Gavin Bazunu in goal, the defeat could have defiantly been worse as the Greeks had seven corners in the opening 15 minutes. The Southampton goalie had to make two class saves before the penalty incident.
Is it possible that Kenny and his backroom staff overthought the game? Did they have too much time to plan for the game with the training camps in Bristol and Turkey? They seemed to invite pressure on themselves as they allowed Greece to play out from the back. It doesn’t bode well that Gus Poyet tactically outmanoeuvred Ireland.
Do we have the players? Based on Premier League stats, only 13 Irish players played a combined 9320 minutes across the entire 2022/2023 season, beating the record by 620 minutes set last season (9940). This statistic doesn’t make pretty reading, but with Josh Cullen and potentially Caoimhin Kelleher getting a move this summer, the playing time numbers could rise.
However, the vast majority of players that Kenny has put his faith in need to get regular game time. It’s hard to see how it will improve anytime soon.
The FAI are trying to solve the player issue by asking for €690 million across 15 years from the government to improve infrastructure. Player development is needed, but how long would we have to wait to get players from the League of Ireland to play at a high level so they can stay home instead of heading abroad.
Will Kenny remain for the duration of his contract? Based on interviews with players, they don’t blame the manager and want him to stay. Is that being modest to the press, maybe? What is the solution? Do we want free-flowing attacking football, or do we want to go back to the days of long ball football with low attendance at the Aviva if a manager like Sam Allardyce becomes the boss?
Only time will tell what will happen to Kenny. You have to sympathise with him, as Liam Brady claimed, “It’s the worst Irish team of his lifetime.” What is he supposed to do with the quality of players at his disposal?
I believe Kenny’s style has flaws, with the majority of his apparent free-flowing football being passive or sideways passing so far under his tenure.
Does he take the weaker teams for granted, as we seem to struggle against any team ranked below us? However, at the same time, when we play the World Cup finalists, we become an above-average time that raises standards and becomes unlucky not to come away with a point.
Do we have the players to play free-flowing football? The Premier League is becoming more free-flowing and pressing to dominate as the seasons go on, with the Championship progressing to this level. The real issue is the coaching that is taking place on our own island at an underage level from the get-go.