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Thursday, January 17, 2008
A Farce To Be Reckoned With - Part II

Kevin Palmer

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman were charged with task of interviewing every available football manager in the world.

As you will appreciate, such a monumental undertaking requires many hours of discussion, with their ultimate goal being a bid to identify the right man to succeed grand orator Stephen Staunton as the Republic of Ireland's new manager.

You knew before this laborious process kicked-off that anything orchestrated by the confused governing body known as Football Association of Ireland would quickly develop into a farce, yet the trio dubbed 'The Three Wise Men' set off on their mission of finding a miracle maker to transform a faltering national team with the best wishes of a nation.

Let's introduce the cast. First there is ex-Arsenal manager Don Howe, who has hardly been seen in top-level football for a decade, but the 72-year-old was an obvious choice for such a task in the view of visionary FAI chiefs.

Current Ireland Under-21 coach Don Givens also fitted the bill as a man with great knowledge of the Irish game and it must have seemed neat and tidy for the FAI masterminds that their first two head hunters had the same Christian name. If only a third Don could be found, they doubtless thought.

However, with Donald Trump unwilling to complete the dream team of selectors, Don King refusing to give up his boxing commitments in Las Vegas and Donald Duck opting out of the process as he felt it was below him, the natural pick to fill the third role was Ray Houghton.

Apparently, former Ireland international Andy Townsend turned down the chance to become a 'wise man' and Johnny Giles, probably the most sensible figure influencing the FAI just now, preferred to take a back-seat after he spoke to now Derby boss Paul Jewell about taking the job back in November.

Glasgow-born former Ireland midfielder Houghton was never likely to turn his back on his adopted country and so the plan was laid out for these three men of impeccable football knowledge to set about their task of coming up with a name to recommend to the powers that be.

The FAI board is led by CEO John Delaney, the man behind the inspired appointment of Staunton in January 2006 and a figure who has since decided he is not qualified enough to select the next Ireland manager without the help of men who know the game.

'It's best to leave it this time to others who have the professional background to go and make this kind of appointment,' claims Delaney. 'I see my key skills as an administrator and the FAI board are confident we have the right people in place to recommend the right man to lead Ireland in the 2010 World Cup campaign.'

In other words, I don't want to take the blame if the next Ireland manager is as hopeless as the last one. Buck passing is a trait of those who may be out of their depth in top jobs and in the opinion of one former Ireland international, Delaney and his pals will not escape criticism if the wrong man is appointed this time.

'The FAI may be trying to distance themselves from the decision by claiming others are making it, but it's never going to wash in the long run,' believes ex-Liverpool striker, John Aldridge. 'When you are dealing with politics like this, the men in power have to take responsibility for whoever gets the top jobs in their organisation. Their necks will be on the line if it goes wrong again.'

So who are the contenders for the job that seems to have more primaries and caucuses than the American election?

There has long been a belief that FAI chief Delaney is keen to appoint former Barcelona and England manager Terry Venables, with the veteran coach confirming he is keen to take up the post.

Ireland stars Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt are among those who have promoted Venables' claims and as the Ireland squad are in desperate need a man of experience and knowledge of the game at the highest level, 'Eire-Tel' fits the bill.

However, his cause was not helped when critic-supreme Eamonn Dunphy went back on his support for Venables when he was linked to the job before Staunton's appointment to suggest his recent record in the game and business failings meant he was a spent force.

From that point on, the push to appoint Venables as Ireland manager has become more than a little confused, as it seemed many Ireland fans were opposed to the move. It left those 'wise men' to embark on the most exhaustive race to find a new manager and the Irish bookmakers have spent much of the last two months installing a new favourite for the post on a daily basis.

Liam Brady, Roy Hodgson, David O'Leary, Gerard Houllier, John Giles, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Didier Deschamps have been 'certs' for the position at one point or another and yet we still have no sign of white smoke emerging from FAI towers to signify an appointment is imminent. Indeed, reports suggest Vatican officials will appoint a couple of Pope's before the FAI get their next top man, but these cannot be confirmed.

'Nothing surprises me with the FAI,' says Ireland legend Roy Keane, who can always be relied upon to interject some colour to the scenario. 'It wouldn't surprise me if it takes another three months and anyway, why would they appoint anyone when they haven't got any games to play. There would be uproar. John Delaney would be hung.'

Irishman O'Leary may be natural choice to take the job as he has the experience of coaching in the modern game, but FAI sources suggest his lack of popularity among key players ruled him out of the running from an early stage.

However, it now it emerges that O'Leary turned down the offer of an interview to concentrate on a return to club management, which further muddies the waters.

Sacked Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez is the next due for an interview this week, while Reading boss Steve Coppell is another viable contender.

A continental manager may struggle to understand the unique culture that is Ireland, so Venables seems to be the outstanding candidate. 'Not many people will know that Terry has already been at a few Ireland training sessions in his time,' wrote Aldridge in his column for the Sunday World newspaper last weekend.

'I remember preparing for an international during Jack Charlton's reign as manager and Venables was stood next to him on the touchline, eager to learn how we had created the sort of spirit that made us such a force at international level. You need someone who knows how to make Irish players tick, so give Terry a chance.'

While the date of January 22 was inked into the diary as the date when the 'wise men' would recommend a name to the FAI board, there is now talk of an extension to search and with a game against Brazil at Croke Park just three weeks away, the prospect of Ireland entertaining the game's biggest name without a manager looms large.

Could it be that Messrs Howe, Givens and Houghton are on a weekly retainer and want to keep the search going for as long as possible? Or maybe those making money on the erratic betting exchanges love this impasse too much for it to come to an end? Whatever the truth, the FAI needs to act quickly to end a farce that is making them look like amateur fools all over again.

If Terry Venables is the man to lead Ireland into a new era, get on with the appointment and end this pathetic posturing. If not, the FAI should explain why their chosen kingmakers have spent three months driving down dead ends.

• Ireland's World Cup qualifying fixtures:
September 6, 2008 - Georgia (a)
September 10 - Montenegro (a)
October 15 - Cyprus (h)
February 11, 2009 - Georgia (h)
March 28 - Bulgaria (h)
April 1 - Italy (a)
June 6 - Bulgaria (a)
September 5 - Cyprus (a)
October 10 - Italy (h)
October 14 - Montenegro (h)

• Read Kevin Palmer's first A Farce To Be Reckoned With from January 2006


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