Martin O’Neill has been rewarded with a contract extension from the Football Association of Ireland – which will see him in charge for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020 qualification campaign. There are, of course, two ways to look at his tenure.
First, the optimist. At time of writing, there’s a possibility that Martin O’Neill could qualify for both major tournaments he’s been tasked with getting the nation to.
Finishing four points behind Germany in a qualifying group as well as ousting Scotland seems like a relatively big achievement given the context. Bosnia and Herzegovina wasn’t the easiest tie in the play-off either, and that win produced a terrific night at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland then made it out of the group stages before netting first against the hosts. This year, Ireland beat Austria away from home. That’s right, they genuinely beat a side ranked ahead of them away from the bosom of the Aviva Stadium.
They’re still on course to qualify if they beat a Gareth Bale-less Wales side and get a likely favour next week, too. So, why the uproar?
BREAKING: Martin O'Neill has agreed a contract extension and will continue as the Republic of Ireland manager for the EURO 2020 campaign! ? pic.twitter.com/UAjiKoMGVh
— FAIreland (@FAIreland) October 5, 2017
Here’s the realistic view. The Boys in Green are a disjointed side with no immediately identifiable approach to their football. Despite being Ireland manager for four whole years with limited turnover in players, O’Neill is yet to actually figure out his best team.
The FAI’s output in announcing his contract seemed to be based around the idea of a new era. The inclusion of Sean Maguire in the squad seems to have pacified the general public, but the question about Maguire was a consistent one at press briefings.
His talent was there for all to see over the last year, yet O’Neill decided to sit on the fence with it. He oozes caution and in the face of a new era, it’s unlikely that the cautious approach will go a long way to clearing off the FAI’s debt.
One positive thing that’s enhanced his time in charge has been the Wes Hoolahan-factor. We love Wes Hoolahan and if you don’t – there’s something wrong with you. ‘Weso’ will be thirty-seven by the time the Euro 2020 qualifiers are over. Looking to him to unlock awkward defences in stingy away ties in Eastern Europe will likely be a thing of the past.
Indeed, if the FAI are keen on this new era, it’s curious as to why they’ve opted for more of the same. Even his brightest of moments seem to have come out of good fortune.
Twenty good minutes against Sweden looked like the country had turned a corner in terms of their approach, but we’ve not seen a performance like that since. A late, late winner against a disinterested Italian side is the crowning glory.