Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 4: Where's Your Money on Trap's Replacement?

So Trapattoni is finally gone. And, truth be told, for all the column inches he's inspired over the past seven days, there isn't much left to be said that hasn't been mentioned a thousand times already. But before we move on and look at the best value for his potential replacements today, a few final notes on Trap's tenure as Ireland manager:

  • It drove us insane...literally insane: Seriously, for the past five years, we've become almost as bad as the English press in taking it upon ourselves to backseat manage the national team. Whereas under Staunton we laughed to hide the tears, it was only under our most experienced and successful manager to-date that we decided we could do a better job. Maintaining this attitude of pressuring players into the national setup will do the successor no good. Regardless of what you may think of Trap's selection policy, he's the man appointed with the task and we need to support our team instead of adding to pre-existing turmoils with unhelpful Twitter hashtags in future.
  • Results aren't the only mark of improvement: Following on from what I said on Twitter on Friday, it matters that the players got to work with a manager of the quality of Trapattoni, and will help them for years to come (even if the results didn't necessarily follow all the time). As we saw under Brian Kerr, being a local legend can only take you so far, and even though Trap may have lost some of his Midas touch in his elder years (as Ken Early devastatingly pointed out in comparing his motivational techniques to that of Barcelona), he's still forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know and was no doubt able to contribute priceless nuggets of advice during his time at the helm. Granted, he struggled to put it all together at other times on the field, but under the right tutelage that wisdom could be gleamed into something special in years to come.
  • We simply didn't have the players. No, we didn't. No...we didn't. Can we just give up on the delusional argument that we are anywhere near the crazily high standard set by the golden ages of 1990, 94 and 2002? Right now, we're like Belgium in reverse, on the opposite end of a golden generation and ultimately humbled by the constraints of our tiny nation.
  • Finally...WE HIRED AN ITALIAN!!! Not only an Italian, the Italian. What did we expect when we were nearly lining the streets in celebration in 2008?!? That boring, play-not-to-lose-and-hope-to-nick-a-goal game is exactly the style that Trapattoni has perfected over the years (only with world class players that actually went and nicked that goal more often than not). It's not Trapattoni's fault that half the country declaring him a legend in 2008 were actually ignorant of what he was legendary for, because they'd only previously encountered him in Champions League round-ups being lauded by Giles and Dunphy. That's what Trapattoni does, that's what Trapattoni did, and until Euro 2012, it worked.

I'm not defending Trapattoni to be contrary. It was the right time for him to go, agreed. But a bit of perspective please.

Anyway, without further adieu, let's take a look at some of the prime candidates for the newly-vacated job. Everyone is talking about who they think should be picked, so instead let's look at who you should put your money on, going from least to most likely. All odds, as always, via Paddy Power.

Eamonn Dunphy @ 250/1

For the craic if nothing else. Look, while we wait for the next great generation to be nurtured at their properly-resourced clubs, we may as well make some use of Eamo while we still have him and find out if he actually could do a better job than those he's lambasted throughout the years. We're Irish, we sent a Turkey and (more embarrassingly) Jedward and (most embarrassingly) Dervish to the Eurovision, if any country would pick a fruit loop to be national team manager for the absolute hell of really should be us.

Alex Ferguson/Jupp Heynckes @ 50/1

Fergie hates Rangers, so he'd fit right in with half of the soccer-loving contingent over here right away. As for Heynckes? Well, we didn't think we'd get Trap to begin with, did we? And if he's still sour about being replaced at Bayern, then why not enter a job where he can't possibly do worse and would be basically unsackable? If Denis O'Brien would still be willing to pony up some of the cash, we could likely afford these two for what is a part-time job, and DOB poached Pat Kenny, didn't he? So he's on a roll.

If you take away from the fact that there's absolutely no chance of two of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen risking their legacies (that both ended perfectly) on a hiding to nothing, then...well there's nothing really I can say here that makes it seem like a workable option. But still, it's nice to dream isn't it?

Guus Hiddink @ 50/1

I'm actually surprised that Hiddink is given the same odds as Ferguson and Heynckes, since he seems eminently more gettable than either of them. Guus loves the schedule afforded to him at international level and adores the hero worship he gets from taking a small country way beyond their means (South Korea & Australia), so on paper this could happen. He's also recently unemployed, having walked out on the sinking ship that is Anzhi in Russia. The only possible slight is that his last two sojourns into managing an international underdog have been more humbling, having failed to take Russia and Turkey past the qualifying stages in the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, so the pressure cooker expectancy in Ireland may be a deterrent.  If you're optimistic and fancy a tipple, though, you could do worse than sticking a fiver on Hiddink while the odds are long.

Rene Muelensteen @ 40/1

Well since we're looking at short-lived Anzhi bosses, Muelensteen is still reeling from his 16 day stint at the former Russian superclub. The latest round of media interviews would suggest he's very much a man in need of some love, so placing the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his shoulders might well be up his alley. He also talks a good game, recently telling The Telegraph the secrets behind shaping Cristiano Ronaldo into a winner during his time as Alex Ferguson's assistant. Could be an outside bet, but one question remains over whether he'd get the job or not: has John Delaney ever heard of him?

Sven Goran Erikssen @ 40/1

Just write him a cheque big enough and he's game ball. Write him a huge cheque and he'll tell the world how he's always dreamed of becoming Mexico Ivory Coast Notts County Leicester Guanghzou R&F Irish manager too.

Cons: may end up riding your missus.

Chris Hughton @ 33/1

He was shown sitting in the crowd looking about as dishevelled as any of the Irish home support last Friday, and instantly we all thought our saviour had been anointed. But there's one problem: why the hell would he take the gig? Since his time working with the Irish setup, Hughton has worked wonders in building a stellar reputation in England, with Newcastle fans no doubt still pining for the stability his reign brought with him, and Norwich fans enjoying his inoffensive and steady time keeping them away from relegation danger. While it's perfectly plausible that he has the skillset to do some good work with our young side, why would he walk away from a good job just as his bosses are loosening the purse strings, into our meagre talent pool that requires occasional miracles to save? It makes perfect sense for us to have him on board, but there's a good reason his odds are still relatively long.

Roy Keane @ 25/1

Keano's return seems unlikely on both sides right now, with Delaney laughing off suggestions that the Corkman be ripe for the picking and Roy being Roy. But ignore his damaged reputation, after a disastrous turn at Ipswich, for a second and focus on the facts that:

1) This is probably going to happen one day, like it or not. And,
2) Roy actually ticks a lot of boxes that might solve the problems we're currently experiencing.

For example, although I know I've said multiple times that Ireland have a poor talent pool to select from, we still do have some raw potential in the line-up. And the Ken Early article that I linked to earlier pinpointed how Trap may have had trouble motivating his side, focusing on not messing up as opposed to more proactive strategies. In Keano, we'd appoint a man who has an absolute refusal to lose, someone who would hold the side to near-impossibly high standards regardless of their quality. He's the anti-Trap.

And, as the legendary Alex Ferguson recently outlined in unveiling his managerial blueprint to the Harvard Business School, one of the finest traits he could encourage was that, "Winning is in my nature. There is no other option for me. Even if five of the most important players were injured, I expected to win...All my teams had perseverance – they never gave in. It's a fantastic characteristic to have." If there's one man alive who epitomises every single iota of these characteristics, it's Roy Keane. It just doesn't look likely to happen, yet.

Mick McCarthy @ 7/1

Ugh. I was appalled by this suggestion upon first hearing it, and even more appalled by the rumour being started by John Delaney himself, giving encouraging signs that Mick should re-apply for his old post.

Look, I like McCarthy and respect all that he's done for the country as both a player and coach. But his success at the helm came in the right place, at the right time. He inherited a second golden generation of players, with Roy Keane at his peak (while he was there), Robbie Keane and Damien Duff being almost world class, a stellar backline that could frustrate almost any international attack and a host of useful role players. If we still had that at our disposal, then sure why not? Let's go back for another round and sing about how we're Mick McCarthy's baby all over again. But times have changed. It's 2013: the Strawberry Alarm Clock is a parody of its former self now and I fear that McCarthy could follow along the same lines. Let's leave the past in the past. Please. I don't want to cringe at the memories of 2002.

Martin O'Neill @ 11/10 (Bookies' Favourite) this could work. By now, it's no secret that O'Neill's specialty is taking mediocre talent, finding their spark and taking them to heights previously unforeseen. He did it with Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa before his luck finally ran out at the circus that is Sunderland. If things had panned out slightly differently for O'Neill and Alex Ferguson had stepped down while he was turning water into wine at Villa, he may have had several years bedded in as Manchester United boss instead of David Moyes by now. He was certainly my pick at the time. Instead, the rigours of club football took their toll on him and Sunderland proved to be a miracle too far. Like Jesus Christ, he was crucified.

A change of pace is definitely in order for O'Neill to repair his (unfairly) tainted reputation. As one of the brightest minds in football today, he may be the only man capable of not only having Ireland legitimately challenge for a Euro 2016 Finals spot, but also repairing the infrastructure in the country's national football system that was neglected by Trapattoni. Whether he's in charge for years or not, Martin O'Neill could leave Ireland as a team setup to compete at the elevated status we believe we're capable of for years.

My only fear? Well it's not with O'Neill, he's the ideal candidate by a distance. It's the rather quantifiable concern of the FAI. This appointment makes so much sense that I have absolute faith that the FAI could make a horse's arse of any wooing process required to lure the best candidate. Even if you disregard their years of ineptitude, as the grassroots game has languished to near extinction for years now, John Delaney's arrogance in encouraging otherwise capable managers like McCarthy to apply, while laughing at the mention of the likes of Keane, shows exactly where their head is at. They still feel that the job is worth chasing right now, despite the state that the team is in. They witness our players outclassed (not for lack of effort) against Sweden and Austria sides that we could, in theory, contend with and still fail to realise that the job is a poisoned chalice, one that they should be making every effort to now glamourise and sell on someone capable of steering the ship in the right direction again.

It's that combination of both ignorance and arrogance that leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth as I'm resigned to further years of disappointment, when a perfect candidate is staring us right in the face, as I face up to the reality of who I feel the smart money is on for the job...

Brian McDermott @ 13/5 (My Favourite)

Before I begin, let me just clarify that I have no problem with Brian McDermott. He seems a hard-working, dedicated guy who did a great job at taking Reading back to the Premier League. I felt he was hard done by to get sacked and was glad to see him find a new position so quickly at Leeds, where he's the latest in a long line of coaches charged with restoring them to where they feel they belong (thus far he's had a mediocre start to the season, but there's a long way to go yet).

Let's be blunt here, though, and ask what has he really done? Yes, he took Reading back to the Premier League, but that was just a few short years after they had made their last appearance in the top flight. So while it's admirable, they were (and still are) finely poised to be a yo-yo club. It's not as if he took them from the Blue Square Premier or anything.

Once in the top flight, having failed to remarkably strengthen his squad during the summer (Pavel Pogrebnyak was his marquee signing, while Ian Harte reminded us all he still existed with a regular starting place), the club almost immediately struggled and looked poised for a swift return to the Football League. They were plucky and unafraid to take the game to stronger opposition (most notably in their 3-4 loss to Man Utd), but ultimately lacked the quality to really compete. They ended 2012 with just two wins and 13 points from 20 games. His Manager of the Month award in January felt almost ironic, as it was the first month of the season Reading had a positive form guide. He was sacked shortly thereafter.

So why would the FAI opt for McDermott? Well, with far less credentials to his name, he'd be cheaper than the rest. And unfortunately that's what I fear it all comes down to. Delaney and co will approach this crucial stage of our national side's development with the attitude of an unappreciated Irish mammy, thinking, "We gave you the world with Trapattoni, and look what it got us!", throwing a Nokia 3310 at us for Christmas when really we'd asked for an iPhone.

Though the pain of the results against Sweden and Austria are still fresh in our minds, perhaps one day history will see Trapattoni in a kinder light. He is, after all, the man who brought us back to the finals of a major championship after a dozen years in the doldrums. Should we appoint McDermott as new boss, though, that will almost certainly be the case as we pine for weeks as miserable as this, when there were at least some permutations to give us hope as the week began. That hope may be just a memory, and all the while we wonder how things could've turned out so differently, as Martin O'Neill's phone sits idly by.

This Weekend's Quick Picks

I'll keep this relatively brief. Last time out, I had a revelation. See two weeks ago, in a two-day accumulator, I succeeded with the hard bets on day 2 (predicting under 2.5 goals in Liverpool/Utd and for Kerry to win the 1st half but Dublin to win the match in the GAA), but it was already null-and-void because the supposed 'easy' bets of day 1 let me down, with in-form West Ham (who entered Saturday morning with the potential to top the table) falling to Stoke, of all teams. On Twitter, I haplessly posited that...

So let's test that theory out for size, since nothing else is working for me yet this season. Short and simple: I'm going to take three, evenly-matched, Saturday 3pm kick-offs and put all outcomes into this DJ headphone bag...

...then put €5 on the resulting treble.

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle

Pick: Newcastle @ 5/2 (balls...)

Fulham vs. West Brom

Pick: Fulham @ 11/10

Hull vs. Cardiff

Pick: Cardiff @ 15/8

So there you have it.

Does it defeat the purpose that I want to do it all over again?

Rick Nash is a former pro-wrestler who currently DJs for hire, makes piss-poor sports bets and has a community radio show. Altogether, he's a real bum, and you should be ashamed of yourself if you thought this piece was in any way insightful or entertaining. But still, follow him on Twitter and stuff.

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