Legendary Irish central defender Paul McGrath has claimed Stephen Kenny should step down as Irish manager following his sides 1-0 defeat by Luxembourg last night and has suggested former Celtic boss Neil Lennon might be the man to take over.
Writing on the independent.ie website the former Manchester United and Aston Villa star said, ‘I never like kicking a man when he’s down. I was down myself many a day. But I’m sorry, Stephen Kenny – it is time to go.
‘International football management is about making the most of what you have got.
‘And Stephen should know that if he wants Ireland to play like Barcelona it would be useful to have a Xavi and an Iniesta in midfield and a little magician called Lionel Messi up front.
‘Right now, Ireland haven’t got a third cousin, twice removed, of any of those great players in our ranks.
‘But we are trying to pass the ball around as though we had such players of that magnificent class to call on.
‘We should have known something was badly wrong when top-class coaches like Alan Kelly and Damien Duff walked out of the Kenny set-up before we’d even played a World Cup qualifier.
‘That just doesn’t happen to international teams. It happened to us.
‘Sorry, going out with three centre-halves in a home match with Luxembourg is just not acceptable.
‘I know Ireland played well in Belgrade last week using that 3-5-2 formation.
‘But it is one thing to go with that tactic against a strong Serbian outfit on their pitch. It’s another thing altogether to do it against Luxembourg at home.
‘Our guests could not believe their luck in the first half when they had two men over at the back at all times.
‘While three of our green-shirted heroes marked one attacking opponent at the Irish end of the pitch.
‘Giving the Luxembourg lads that extra man at the back just amplified the big failing of this current bunch of Irish players.
‘Nowhere in green right now is there an international-class midfielder or ‘No 10’ who can open up a well-organised defence.
‘As Dusan Tadic did for Serbia on Wednesday and as Bruno Fernandes of Portugal will no doubt do when we run into him in the Autumn qualifiers.
‘Ireland carried the ball forward willingly time and again, but could not make any dent in the Luxembourg defence.
‘On the one occasion that we did in the first-half, unfortunately, James Collins did not show the ruthlessness of a top striker in putting the ball in the net.
‘Yes, the chance came to him quickly. But that split second is the difference between the best and the rest.
‘Be certain Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane or Antoine Griezmann would have stuck that chance away.
‘And before you say it is unfair to be comparing Irish lads to those superstars, I’m sorry, in international football, you are measured against the best.
If Ireland did somehow get to Qatar 2022, they would be playing against those players and their compatriots.
They would have converted that near post opportunity and Ireland would be 1-0 down.
Stephen Kenny did not shy away from the difficult call of dropping goalkeeper Mark Travers and putting his trust in 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu.
He had little choice after Travers was at fault for Serbia’s second goal on Wednesday and not great for their first, either.
The teenager Bazunu made a great save in the first half last night, when again an Irish net-minder was caught out of position.
This time Bazunu had just enough time to recover his ground and save the day.
His manager had the good sense to get rid of the 3-5-2 formation at half-time.
But by then Ireland were chasing the match against a team growing in belief that they could get a win out of this match – never mind a draw.
When you are playing a minnow, it’s always a good tactic to go hell for leather at them for 20 minutes at home, hoping to bludgeon them into an error that will give you a goal.
I admit that tactic works best when you have a rabid home crowd behind you and can really intimidate the lads whom you know are not really expecting to get anything from this match, except to avoid a complete pasting.
But by playing as we did in the first half, Ireland gave Luxembourg confidence and you could see them growing on the pitch. The longer this went on the more they fancied they could win this.
Gerson Fernandes’ goal for Luxembourg was coming for a long time, I’m amazed it took until the 85th minute of the match.
We’re now out of the World Cup realistically. We’re not going to make a play-off with this result hanging around the team like a noose around our necks. So the FAI have to get in a new leader for Irish football with a bit of big-time experience, who can make the best of what we have.
Is there anyone out there? Maybe Neil Lennon would take on the job?
I can’t think of too many others who’d be rushing to get involved when it is clear the country is going through a phase where we just don’t have the football talent.
The money is not out in Abbotstown to get in a big name who would do the job for the dosh and shut his eyes to the other problems.
But the simple fact is that Qatar 2022 is over for us now.
The only thing we have now is time. Time for some of the younger lads to start playing regularly for their clubs.
That’s our big issue right now. If our players are not playing regularly for any club, never mind the top clubs, how can they compete at international level?
We have a bit of time too for a new boss to use the six remaining qualifiers in the Autumn to put a bit of a shape on it and start to build for the Euro 2024 qualifiers which won’t start until September 2022 or maybe not even until this time two years.