Hawkeye Sidekick

Opinion – Luxembourg win puts spotlight firmly on current and historical systematic Republic of Ireland football failings

The final whistle at the Aviva Stadium was a relief personally. It was the end of the anguish, end of watching an ineffective Republic of Ireland performance. For Stephen Kenny and backroom staff, they can thank their lucky stars that there was no fans in attendance because the reaction would have been fast and swift. FAI may have been required to act last night.

Luxembourg came to the Aviva Stadium in confident mood. Their Nations League campaign indicated a side who were progressing well with keynote wins over Cyprus and Azerbaijan.

They have players playing their football in Portugal, Germany and Holland. Rodrigues playing Champions League football but the general Irish media focused more on the supposed progression against Serbia than focusing on an opponent who demanded more respect.

The game itself last night mirrored what we have seen in previous Stephen Kenny managed fixtures. Ireland looking to build from the back but Luxembourg easily game managing the threat. James Collins’ chance before half time was the first time that the Republic of Ireland passed the game with tempo in a final third sense. Callum Robinson attacking space and Morais pulled off a reaction save from Collins. If that had gone in, perhaps a different complexion to the game?

Republic of Ireland’s belief in the game plan under Stephen Kenny waned in the second half and the managerial switches only served to unsettle the side allowing Rodrigues more space in the midfield. Rodrigues was the class act on the pitch last night. His stunning lob nearly catching up Gavin Bazunu in the opening half but the Dynamo Kiev player was constantly probing in the middle third looking to create. His strike to win the game was stunning. No Irish player was capable of that standard of play in the ninety minutes from an attacking sense.

The only positives from this night for Republic of Ireland were the performances of Gavin Bazunu and Jason Knight. They looked for the ball while other shirked responsibility. Bazunu in goal ordering his defense into position, providing quality distribution from the pack. Bazunu look to dominate the aerial threat. He could do nothing about the Rodrigues long range strike late on. Jason Knight came in and he looked for the ball, tried to be positive in contrast to other colleagues who did not want to know and lost it at a rate of knots in midfield and attacking areas.

The post-game comments from Seamus Coleman were straight and to the point. No hiding place for the players on the performance but for Stephen Kenny, it is now ten games without a win. The Kenny era is turning into a train wreck but the players are simply not good enough particularly in the middle third and attacking positions. Luxembourg last night looked the better technical players. They looked the fitter side as several Republic of Ireland players (without regular first team football) waned.

I posed a question last night on social media. Should Stephen Kenny get more time to arrest the slide? The responses back were quite interesting. The word ‘deluded’ came into my DM quite quickly but who in all honesty would take this role on after seeing the performances of the side in the last six months.

Stephen Kenny is looking to adopt a passing style but the players at his disposal are showing their limitations quite alarmingly. FAI may be saying the right things about given Kenny the tools to succeed in the job but you would presume that they are looking at their options if results and performances of this nature continue.

The loss last night should focus minds within the FAI and anyone with an association with the beautiful game in this country. The deficiencies of the coaching structures in the last decade is now coming home to roost. The track record of our underage teams in the past decade is now seen at senior level.

This is not something where the decline was overnight. The eye was taking off the ball in nurturing the next generation; the focus was on the senior side and look where we are now.

Miguel Delaney wrote a wonderful piece six years ago about the plight of Irish football, looking at the core issues with Irish football. The SFAI and the seminar organized by the Ireland U15 management story was indicative of the head in the sand approach. No consultation meant no compliance and a malaise ensued. Mixed messages. The directive ignored.

Stephen Kenny may potentially be a fall guy for this campaign soon but the coaching structures need to be reviewed. This line from Delaney’s superb piece is pretty thought provoking

One university study indicated that, between the crucial formative ages of six and 16, central European players get an average of 14 times more touches than those from Ireland.

The real problem with Irish football – Miguel Delaney (October 2014)

Just think about that for a moment. Football is about possession, about having the skill set to control the ball in order to score goals. The ball is your best friend in some countries, it is a way of getting out of poverty and a better life. The ball is supposed to be a source of enjoyment but this study shows the chasm between the footballing experience in Ireland vs. other countries. No wonder young players give up on the sport, the must win at all costs mentality in U8, U10 is nonsensical. You have seen it, the manager demanding a player effort over skill. The skill set is a distant second. The enjoyment further down the pecking order.

When I consider the days when kids would play football on the street corners or in a green area, those days are pretty much done for. In the estate where I live in Galway, the only kids who are playing football in the green area are kids from families who moved to Ireland. They play with freedom and enjoyment. We need kids to get back playing in this enjoyable environment and allow the training sessions with their schools / clubs to harness that love of the sport.

There is no easy fix to this decline. The underage structures need to be refined and improved upon. The 2009 recommendations need to be reviewed and reasons why recommendations were not followed should be disclosed publicly. FAI have a duty to the game, the governance has been a shambles but now is the opportunity to put their best foot forward to support the domestic leagues (junior and senior) and have a coherent strategy for kids to make the transition from school boy leagues to youth football and then ultimately senior ranks (if they so desire).

The hard questions should be asked now. Stephen Kenny needs to take some responsibility here for this current campaign. The lack of game plan to counteract Rodrigues last night and Dusan Tadic last week is a management issue but the failings of previous administrations is now coming home to roost in producing players of sufficient skill set to take that step to international football.

Gavin Bazunu and Jason Knight are two examples of underage players who have put in the hard work and dedication to make it to the top, we need others to follow and if that means improving coaching to give a player that extra percentage of performance, then so be it. The hard work for the Republic of Ireland and FAI starts now to look from within. If that means looking at other country structures (Belgium, Spain, Holland, Germany) again as a baseline case study, then so be it.

For Stephen Kenny, this managerial stint looks doomed as the players body language in the second half did not indicate a squad united who wanted to secure a must win fixture. The squad skill set and the game plan under its current guise is not good enough. The much heralded wing backs of Doherty and Stevens have failed to fire under Stephen Kenny. Why is that?

Central midfield is a state of flux and the final third is mediocre at best. There will be more bad nights ahead for the senior side in the months to come. Qatar next and they beat Azerbaijan last night who look a more precarious proposition now for Stephen Kenny’s charges after last night. It is doom and more doom but we should have seen this coming. The warning signs were there for years. Time to buckle up and start to address the core issues.