Changing the manager won't fix Ireland's player development issue

Letting teenagers enjoy multiple sports before progress to the League of Ireland is the only way to create a sustainable path to the top, not sacking Stephen Kenny
Changing the manager won't fix Ireland's player development issue

Ireland's Alan Browne and Gerson Rodrigues of Luxembourg. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

THE stats from Stephen Kenny's opening 10 games are absolutely brutal.

You can debate the merits of developing a more possession-based style or bemoan the absence of key players through injury, but eight scoreless performances and no victories... abysmal stuff. Inexcusable really.

Luxembourg are the 98th-ranked team in the world. A home defeat to a team of that calibre is the stuff of nightmares.

There's huge goodwill towards former Dundalk boss Kenny from League of Ireland regulars but even his most ardent supporters would deem the display at the Aviva on Saturday night as unacceptable. That's not to suggest he's not an international standard manager because he never played at the highest level in England.

Brian Kerr's tenure was undermined by critics who simply didn't respect his homegrown credentials. However, those who don't rate Kenny have no shortage of ammunition right now.

And to be fair, you can both hope the Irish manager turns the tide and also question whether he's the right man for the job.

The manner of his appointment as Mick McCarthy's replacement was unusual and put him under pressure to justify the FAI's decision from the off. To his credit, he took all the blame when interviewed by RTÉ's Tony O'Donoghue and anyone with an ounce of empathy would have felt his pain.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is under savage pressure. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire. 
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is under savage pressure. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire. 

The bottom line is that Ireland don't have a squad of any depth or quality. Of the starting line-up against Luxembourg, only Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman line out for top 10 clubs in the Premier League and unfortunately, they both operate in the same position.

Robbie Keane was strangely unloved in some quarters when he was leading the Ireland line with distinction and regularly scoring for Spurs. There's no one in the current set-up with an ounce of his proven ability.

Cork's Adam Idah, one of a host of absentees this week, and Troy Parrott have shown potential but they're extremely raw. In time they could hit the net at international level. 

The best player on Saturday was fourth-choice keeper Gavin Bazunu. He's on loan at Brian Barry-Murphy's Rochdale United in League One from Manchester City and breakthrough with Shamrock Rovers as a 16-year-old saving a penalty against Cork City at Turner's Cross.

Like another Leesider, Liverpool stopper Caoimhín Kelleher, he could become an elite performer but it'll take time.

The harsh reality is Ireland doesn't have a vibrant league of its own, even if Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk reached the Europa League group stages in the modern era, so completely rely on its best players making a mark across the water.

Of course, that didn't stop some greats emerging over the past 50 years, from Johnny Giles and Liam Brady to Roy Keane and Denis Irwin. David O'Leary, Ronnie Whelan, Paul McGrath and more wore the geansaís of the most famous clubs in England with distinction.

There won't be any of the current Irish squad in the mix to move to Arsenal, Liverpool or Man United this summer. It what has made the progress of ex-Ringmahon Rangers goalie Kelleher at Anfield all the more notable.

There is no quick fix for Stephen Kenny. Or Irish soccer overall.

The FAI has been mismanaged for a long time, with a disgraceful apathy for the League of Ireland. Until that changes, Ireland will continue running to stand still.

Brexit rules mean Irish teenagers can't move to English clubs now until they're 18. Perhaps that will focus the minds of the governing body and put an emphasis on sensible player development. Let the best young guns sample multiple sports until they mature and come through into League of Ireland first-teams as rounded players and people.

Long-term, that's the country's only realistic hope.

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