The Once and Future King?

noel king sideline effect

It seems it has only been in the wake of Giovanni Trapatonni’s departure, that Irish football has begun some serious soul-searching. The Italian’s time in charge has polarised the debate on whether the manager was to blame for the senior team’s ills, or as many are grappling with; ‘We just don’t have the players’. And yet, is John Delaney, Irish soccer’s kingmaker, ignoring the opportunity to change the strategy?

A question: Why did this discussion not take place in the aftermath of our disastrous showing at Euro 2012? While we were busy blaming the coach, the watching world was bidding our football team farewell with scarcely a tear shed, even if they were genuine in their admiration for the famed Green Army.

To outsiders, Trapattoni put manners on an Irish team that was a shambles under the previous management. Yet, even apart from Staunton, Ireland had been away from football’s top table for a decade. Trapattoni had almost seen us to a World Cup, then delivered qualification to a first European Championship in 25 years with lower level Premier League grafters and unfancied Championship players.

The personnel may change now that Trap has left the scene but Andy Reid, Darron Gibson, and Anthony Stokes are not going to turn us into an outfit that would have given Italy and Spain a run for their money in Poland.

John Delaney came in for criticism for his antics with supporters at the Euros. At the same time closer to home, the Chief Executive was slaughtered for ignoring the plight of Monaghan United as yet another League of Ireland club went to the wall.

None of the spotlight that now shines on Ireland’s grass-roots set-up was focussed during the fall-out from Euro 2012. But it’s better late than never.

noel king trainingThe FAI’s Emerging Talent Programme is held up as the beacon of light for our future stars. The scheme brings together the best young players on a weekly basis for specialised coaching in 12 regional centres. The participants are also furnished with ‘lifestyle packs’ but the initiative has come in for criticism with accusations that 14-years-of-age is far too late to be fast-tracking our brightest young talent.

There is also anecdotal evidence of frustration among schoolboys coaches with the programme. Widely varying levels of quality from one regional centre to the next are reported with claims of the typical Irish trait of coaches sending their own ‘Little Billy’ along in the few exclusive spots available.

Against that backdrop, John Delaney has ruled out Noel King for the position of permanent senior manager. Quite why he saw the need to do that prior to our final two qualifiers is anyone’s guess. He could certainly be accused of undermining the interim coach echoing Brian Kerr, who came from a similar background to King making his name within Irish football, who was torn asunder for apparently ‘losing the respect’ of the players.

“Trapattoni was criticised for having no connection to Irish football. It’s scarcely credible to imagine shysters like Harry Redknapp, Paul Jewell, or Terry Venables, once runners in the race for previous Irish manager roles, having a greater input.”

Jack Charlton famously had little time for the domestic scene in Ireland. His clumsiness heralded the exit of stalwarts Liam Touhy and Kerr from the FAI for his interference in an international youth game. Touhy and Kerr’s loss was a devastating blow to the development of Irish under-age football. Under their guidance, Ireland qualified for the 1982 and 1983 European Championships. At the ’83 finals, the duo led an Irish team featuring Denis Irwin to the semi-finals. The fourth place finish saw the Republic qualify for the 1985 World Championship.

It was Charlton’s intervention at half-time in a youth game that saw the departure of Touhy and his assistant. Chartlon was said to have sidelined Touhy as he gave an impromptu team-talk. Kerr followed his colleague by resigning.

The Dubliner’s return would herald Ireland’s greatest success on the international stage with European titles at U16 and U18 level. His continuing alienation from the association, following his ill-fated turn as senior manager, is yet another travesty for the development of Irish grass-roots. John Delaney shoulders plenty of blame for that situation.

Ironically, Big Jack’s success with the senior side had an even greater detrimental effect as generations of Irish teams began imitating the long ball game, and in truth, we’ve not shaken it since, though the FAI are making inroads.

noel kingAiding that effort is Noel King, one of the main tutors for the FAI’s UEFA coaching courses. He is among the chief educators of our football teachers. He has managed our women’s U17 and senior teams with considerable success, guiding the youth team to a World Cup quarter-final and European silver medal.

As U21 coach, he restored credibility to an age group that had become a laughing stock for a decade under the previous manager Don Givens. He previously served as the FAI’s Director of Coaching and formed part of Charlton’s back-room team during our pioneering days of Italia ’90.

In the sobering analysis of the current state of Irish football, many are looking abroad to German, Dutch, and Spanish models. One key argument focuses on the replication of style in play, such a bugbear of the Trapattoni reign, throughout all under-age teams up to the senior side.

To achieve that there needs to be a connection, a network through the different strands of the game in Ireland. Noel King is a perfect link in that structure.

As he takes charge for the final two games of our doomed World Cup 2014 campaign, King will be joined in the dug-out by the FAI’s new International High Performance Director, Ruud Dokter.

Dutchman Dokter’s predecessor in the position was fellow country-man Wim Koevermans who spent four years in the role. No doubt he worked hard within the constraints of the Irish system. The current faction-fighting with the schoolboy game demonstrates just how politicised and narrow-minded the sport remains here. Yet, does anyone know if Koevermans was a success?

Dokter is being heralded for coming from the famed Dutch system of football and if he can replicate a fraction of what occurs in the lowlands, then we may well be on the way to real transformation.

Manager of the senior Holland women’s team, also working in the under-age set-up from various age groups from U-15 to U-21, Dokter also served as an instructor in the area of coach education. Sound familiar?

King’s CV is almost an exact replica. What’s more, he understands the mentality of our players and has worked with some of our senior squad in the U21 set-up.

Two foreigners as performance directors, a foreigner as senior manager, and now, once more, looking to England for a head coach. Just as they watched from the outside at the improvements an Italian brought about for Ireland, other nations might see King as an appropriate fit were it someone from their own ranks.

It’s ironic that we destroyed the last senior manager because he didn’t rate our players or understand our culture. Yet, it seems we’re not prepared to rate one of own either.

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