Irish soccer needs to follow the path of other European countries 

Irish soccer needs to follow the path of other European countries 

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny gestures on the touchline during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, in Dublin, Ireland. 

THE Republic of Ireland's 1-0 loss to Luxembourg has led a lot of soul searching in the Irish football community.

Saturday's performance was Ireland's tenth game without a win in all competitions, a run which has produced just four goals.

Central to the questioning of Ireland’s miserable form, has been the calls for a rebuild of the country’s football infrastructure. 

Former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr, who led the country to victory at the 1998 UEFA European Under-16 Championship, has been very vocal on the need for this.

"Saturday isn't just down to Stephen's faults or the team's faults," he told Virgin Media in the aftermath of Saturday’s game.

"This has been coming for a good while. This is the fault of a lack of a proper player development structure and coaching structure in Ireland for many years.” 

Needing a massive rebuild of a country's football infrastructures is not uncommon, as shown by a number of Europe's top sides over the last 20 years.

Germany; in the aftermath of their defeat to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final, introduced the Talent Development Programme. 

The Ireland team during the national anthems
The Ireland team during the national anthems

Under this initiative, 390 bases across were set up across Germany to develop talented footballers. 

Each base encompassed 65 clubs, which made sure that the entire country was covered. 

This made sure that every player in the country had the same chance to be scouted, developed and sponsored. 

Over 20,000 students benefited from the programme, which was accelerated in 2007 with the introduction of specific education in technical and tactical areas.

Germany's fresh start birthed a wave off stars such as Mario Götze and Thomas Müller, who were instrumental in Die Mannschaft’s World Cup success in Brazil in 2014. 

It was also crucial in the revival of German clubs in European competitions. In 2013, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund met in the Champions League final, a huge moment for the German football.

Belgium followed their European neighbour's lead in 2006. 

Michel Sablon, who worked as a coach with the Belgian team that reached the quarter finals of Italia 90, introduced a blueprint which promised a complete overhaul of country’s football infrastructure. 

This plan saw a new national football centre built in Tubize, just outside Brussels. 

Entry level coaching courses were made free, which increased participation tenfold. 

Sablon also commissioned an extensive study on youth football in Belgium, which involved filming 1,500 matches across different age groups. One of the main findings was to take was the emphasis on winning, and focus on development. 

Small games of 2v2, 5v5 and 8v8 were recommended to encourage children to practice their skills.

Ireland's Alan Browne reacts to a missed shot on goal
Ireland's Alan Browne reacts to a missed shot on goal

This was the catalyst in Belgium’s golden generation, with super stars such as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne coming from these structures. 

The trio were key to The Red Devils’ run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup.

Iceland are the most recent club to start again. 

Their pathway to success began in 2002 with the construction of six full-size indoor football halls around the country (roughly one pitch per 50,000 inhabitants). 

20 artificial pitches and more than 130 mini-pitches for schools and communities, were created which turned football into a year-round sport. These facilities are publicly owned, meaning that anyone can just go and play football.

They also put a great emphasis onto coach education. Sigurður Ragnar Eyjólfsson, who was appointed Technical Director of the Icelandic FA in 2002, spearheaded this initiative.

A training scheme was launched which 600 coaches qualified from. 

The structure of the coaching seminars was also changed, with academic seminars increased from 2-3 to 20-25. 

All of this spread top level coaches right across Iceland, from their professional football league, right down to grassroots.

Iceland’s revival has saw the country rise from 133 in the FIFA World Rankings to 33 in 2018. 

The football renaissance in the land of fire and ice brought the country to the finals of Euro 2016, and to their first ever World Cup in 2018. 

The revival has also been felt at club level, with Stjarnan reaching the play-off round of the 2014 Europa League qualifiers.

While a rebuild will take some time, Ireland have been handed a golden opportunity to start again. 

With the FAI under new management, the sky is the limit for what the country can do.   

Should Ireland go down the road of a massive rebuild, it is comforting to know that it is a well-travelled road.

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