While it remains to be seen whether Lee Carsley, Neil Lennon or someone else entirely will ultimately be
at the helm when Belgium come to Dublin next month, here are five key issues for Stephen Kenny’s
successor – whoever he may be – to grapple with:
- Patterns of play – while the short passing style that Kenny implemented could sometimes be
pleasing on the eye, it was rarely successful. Ireland’s build-up play was just too stale and static to
be properly effective – the frequent failure of Plan A and the subsequent lack of a viable Plan B
meant that the expansive overhaul of the country’s style of play was always destined to fail.
Although the shape of the team was frequently an issue for fans, more often it was the lack of
urgency, pedestrian movement and pointless sideways passing that irked the Aviva faithful and
ultimately saw all the goodwill towards Kenny evaporate as encouraging displays against some of
Europe’s strongest sides were totally undermined by truly terrible results and performances against
mediocre opponents. Granted, Carsley’s appointment would bring a renewed wave of optimism but
it would all count for nothing if he can’t find an effective balance between ideology and
pragmatism – as Stephen Kenny ultimately discovered to his cost.
- Game management – related to the need to find a winning formula but also a distinct skill in its
own right, is the necessity for the new coach to manage games effectively. Not making dominance
count, conceding goals at inopportune times and letting leads slip became unfortunate hallmarks of
the Kenny era. These issues, further exacerbated by opponents frequently scoring goals from just
outside our own box, quickly began to dominate the narrative of most Ireland performances in the
last couple of years and they were problems that Kenny and his coaching staff were ultimately
unable to resolve.
More tactical nous will be required from our new coach if he is to arrest Ireland’s slide down the
FIFA rankings as our predictability and lack of cutting edge have seen us become soft touches and
edge ever closer to becoming one of Europe’s minnows.
- Communication – Stephen Kenny talked a good game at the outset and won the hearts and minds
of many with his positive talk of a modern possession-based style ushering in a brave new era for
Irish football. Unfortunately, the reality proved to be rather different and one of the saddest things
about the unravelling of Kenny’s tenure was the very visible effect it had on him.
His media appearances were often tense, cringe-worthy and prickly affairs as he sought to defend
his dismal record, highlight the team’s alleged progress and, generally, try to sugar-coat a very
As uninspiring as his public media utterances were, it was then difficult not to wonder how
Stephen Kenny was really perceived by the Ireland players and whether he exerted a similar lack
of authority within the dressing room at the Aviva. Frequently spoken of in glowing terms by his
devotees, Kenny was certainly a popular figure but not a very commanding presence and, while a
coherent battle plan is all well and good, lacking the force of personality to command the troops
makes it very hard to win the war.
- Aggression – far from the plucky underdogs of yesteryear, this new Ireland team have none of the
grit or aggression that has long since been a characteristic of our most successful sides down
through the ages. Regularly offering neither style nor substance, Ireland have now become entirely
predictable and one-dimensional – the type of side that opposing managers relish coming up
The current Irish team is meek and unimposing – a reflection of their former manager – and
worryingly devoid of leaders. It’s all a far cry from the relentless tenacity of the Jack Charlton era,
the determination and guile of Mick McCarthy’s men or even the functional rigour of Martin
O’Neill’s sides. A trip to Dublin needs to strike fear into the hearts of our opponents once more and our new coach will need to be the standard-bearer that we are so desperately lacking out on the pitch.
- Selection policy – when poring over the embers of his tenure, it is tempting to wonder whether
Stephen Kenny might pinpoint his unwavering faith in Matt Doherty as one of the key reasons for
his ultimate failure.
While his performances for Wolves were often exceptional, his 2020 move to Spurs and his
subsequent loss of form and fitness should have seen Doherty demoted from the Irish side.
Instead, Stephen Kenny built the team around him and decided to ditch his favoured 4-3-3 system
in favour of an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation utilising wing-backs – seemingly designed to get the
best of Doherty but, unfortunately, a move that only caused further headaches.
Whilst managers will always have a soft spot for certain individuals, players must be selected on
merit and form must trump favouritism for the greater good of the team. Backing your players is
laudable but being brave enough to leave them out is arguably more important.
So, a simple message to the new coach: play square pegs in square holes, select the in-form
players and let those who have been dropped put in the hard yards to earn their place in the side
again. Anything else undermines the whole system.