Why Roy Keane is right….
As you know I normally only discuss politics. At the end of this a lot of you are bound to say I should stick to that. However, I am a man who loves his football and therefore felt compelled to talk about the recent mini-controversy surrounding Irish soccer and Roy Keane’s comments. I was incredibly proud of the Irish fans at the tournament. I thought the way they sang and acted was a credit to them and their country. However, I also saw nothing wrong in Roy Keane’s comment that we have to do more than show up for the sing song. I did not read that as an attack on the fans in any way shape or form.
For me, Keane rightly pointed to the fact that the great performance by the fans was what everybody was talking about. How convenient. I am sure the Irish team, management and FAI could not wait to talk about the fans. It is after all the perfect cover to hide behind. Talking about the amazing support means nobody is talking about what was a disgraceful performance on the pitch. I don’t say that lightly.
I didn’t hold out much hope for Ireland going into the tournament I felt there was a good chance we would lose all three games, but not like this. The Irish fans who sang their heart out deserved much better than they got. Let me explain why.
The first thing that is stated at the moment is that this is the weakest Irish squad most can remember. Now doesn’t that tell you something? Its 24 years since our first big break in Euro ’88. Kids born that year should have grown up with a better funded and resourced FAI. A soccer culture that invested in young players developed its own league as a nursery for emerging talent and presented more opportunities than any previous generation. This crop should now be in their footballing prime. Instead we are told we have the weakest squad in history. Serious questions need to be asked about what the FAI has done in those 24 years if that is the case. Maybe John Giles is right when he attacks the coaching of kids today, and talks about being reared on bread and beans, it seems when we had nothing we could produce better players.
The League of Ireland is still a poor relation. It is almost an inconvenience to the FAI. Even in International friendlies, these players are ignored and instead we pluck players from lower leagues and play out of position rather than even give 15 mins for a league of Ireland player to aspire to in a friendly if nothing else.
Cultivation of the game seems to have failed in a rush to continually find a sticking plaster for the international team in the immediate future. That is the problem with arguing that this squad is weak.
It doesn’t end there however. In recent years League of Ireland teams have played vastly superior opposition. Sometimes they did themselves proud, but where they to let in 7 goals in 2 legs of a tie they would be derided. A tournament is like a cup. More often than not we are used to watching big clubs, like Manchester United, City,chelsea or Liverpool, struggling to break down a lower league and weaker outfit. A 2-0 win is considered convincing when fans know that a team can get players behind a ball and frustrate you. Given the Irish squad and their clubs I am not convinced the gulf was as enormous as is being portrayed, this was not a league of Ireland 11.
Ireland conceded weak goals, their organisation was poor and the scores in both matches so far could have been even greater. Now let’s be clear Ireland have never been famous for scoring lots of goals or for free flowing attacking football. Throughout many squads and teams they have, however, always been difficult to break down. The odd bad result would be quickly rectified. What hurts more was that these were not really wonder goals in euro 2012 they were often soft. Let’s face it, if Eoin Hand, Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr, or Steve Staunton were manager at this juncture there would be calls for their head.
I like Trappatoni but I don’t think he is the man for this job. The foot was taken off the pedal once qualification was attained. We know that Trappatoni doesn’t really go to matches or watch players live. We know that he had to be put under considerable pressure to includeIrelands’ only form player and emerging prospect James McClean. His formations at the tournament and playing players out of position were highly questionable. More than this is at the root of what I think is wrong however. It is a cultural difference. Unlike when Jack Charlton took over Trappatoni is not someone deeply familiar with the English and Irish game. He is continental in style. There was nothing of the old Ireland in this tournament.
In fact, while Spain were another class in possession it was not that, that impressed me. It was what they did when they lost possession. They were far more like Irish squads of the past, standing on players toes, harassing, harrying and in your face. It was a shock to see Ireland being pushed about the pitch they we used to do to so many of the more ‘gifted’ teams in the past. The old saying used to go that such teams didn’t like it when you put it up to them, and got stuck in. They might still win, but it was always said that you knew you were in a game after you played Ireland.
That was not the case in this tournament. This was not like any Irish or indeed English league team. The backed off, compartmentalised, and waited hoping to cut out a pass. That’s all very well if you have excellent and fast midfielders and defenders,Irelanddon’t. Ireland are not Italy. That pass will cut you apart and goals will be scored. Your only hope is that you stop the player ever making the pass, rush him, even if it takes a yellow card. I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Charlton’s style of football, given the players at his disposal, but I have no doubt he would have given the hairdryer treatment to any team of his after those last two games.
For me, Roy Keane is right. We can sing and we should be proud of the fans. But we must demand more. These two results are not good enough and should not be hidden beneath talk of excellent opposition or great fans. They should be laid bare and lessons must be learned if we are to compete. That is after all the real reason we are there and no matter how you look at it, we did not compete.