Monday, October 25

The results are regrettable, but Stephen Kenny deserves more time with Ireland | Republic of Ireland

THEgrinding and wailing there was much in the Republic of Ireland. That is mandatory after a home loss to Luxembourg, while magnanimously acknowledging the progress made in recent years by the team from that exalted business park. If he wanted to punish the Irish for their weak performance on Saturday, then he could have ordered them to undertake some unworthy and thankless task, such as going to Hungary to play a friendly against Qatar. Which, it turns out, is what Stephen Kenny and his players should do. Qatar’s last game, for the record, was a win over Luxembourg.

So things could be about to get worse for Ireland, especially as Kenny has lost more players, Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens, to injuries before Tuesday’s game. All of which invites a question: so what?

A good case could be made to fire Kenny right now. The essence of that case is: he played 10, won zero, scored only three bleeding goals. With a record like that, you had to admire Kenny for declaring on Monday: “I want to build a team that really excites the people of Irish football. That’s it. Nothing more than that. “

Stephen Kenny tries to rally his players during Ireland's home loss to Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium.
Stephen Kenny tries to rally his players during Ireland’s home loss to Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne / AFP / Getty Images

At this point, it would be easy to portray Kenny as deluded, a kind of Seán Quixote embarking on a vainglorious project that can only end in failure and mockery. The key difference between a doomed fool and a triumphant leader is not so much what they believe, but what they can make others believe. Kenny is obviously not charismatic like predecessors like Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy or even Giovanni Trappatoni, who had a knack for rousing the mob even when speaking a unique mix of various languages, including gibberish. But in the past, Kenny has taken clubs to unbelievable heights and most of the players on his Irish team are still convinced of his vision.

At least they say yes, especially the inexperienced, who are understandably enthusiastic about a coach who tells them they could become kings and with whom they enjoyed good times in the Under-21 category. Of course, there was little evidence of players determined to follow Kenny’s instructions last Saturday when, despite his demanding a fast start, Luxembourg started and finished as the strongest team. But there was a good reason for that, or rather a bad one: many of Ireland’s players have not played regularly for their clubs, due to injury or unimpressive form. “We found that some of our players struggle to play two games in three days,” Kenny said after Luxembourg’s ignominy. He responded to criticism for failing to deviate from a back three, which had worked well against Serbia but stuck against Luxembourg, saying that he felt the players needed to make any other system successful were in even poorer state than those who were. they were weakening in the field. .

Worse still, many of the fit Irish players play at a lower club level than the biggest names in Luxembourg. This is what Kenny faces. He has taken over at a time when Ireland’s talent pool seems more superficial than it has been for decades and, prior to each of Kenny’s matches, has been further depleted by Covid-19 or injuries.

The dwindling skill stock was already evident under the managers who came before Kenny. Three years ago, Martin O’Neill was so exasperated by the limited technique of some players that he advised them to practice in his outfield doing exercises with tennis balls. His assistant, Roy Keane, turned to alternative medicine for others, attempting to heal Jonathan Walters and Harry Arter’s wounds with a mixture of exotic swear words. McCarthy started his second coming, two years ago, with a 1-0 win over Gibraltar that could have gone either way.

Kenny has inferior players, or at least less developed, than O’Neill and McCarthy and has had worse luck, losing key influences before each of their games. However, he would now be preparing for the European Championship if Conor Hourihane had not missed a near-open goal from six yards in Slovakia in October, or if Doherty and Alan Browne had converted penalties on penalties. The manager is not to blame for those mistakes. But it is fortunate that Ireland did not make it to the European Championship because it would not have been willing to do anything other than make a strong statement denouncing the expansion of the tournament.

All of which amounts to a negative justification to keep supporting a manager trying to take advantage of the positives. Yes, Kenny should be given more time whatever happens against Qatar. Let’s see what he can do when he has something closer to a full team, and when young players like Josh Cullen, Jason Knight, Gavin Bazunu, Dara O’Shea, Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby have worked with him more and advanced their club careers. a little.

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Kenny has been teased for his insistence that he can cultivate a stimulating style, for an alleged lack of pragmatism. But he’s not trying to recreate Brazil ’82, just for players to pass and move with speed and precision, as they have done in spells during his reign. They may not be able to do that regularly. But surely it is better to give him more opportunities to fulfill that ambition than to ditch him and hire a coach who will aim for 1-0 set-piece victories, especially as Ireland no longer seems to have the resources to succeed that way. either.

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