It’s not every day you get to speak to a man who put the ball in the back of the English net, but that’s exactly what the great Ray Houghton did at Euro 88. That goal sealed his status as an Irish cult hero forevermore and the former Liverpool and Aston Villa midfielder went on to make 73 appearances for The Boys In Green, scoring six times for his country in the process.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Houghton at a shop event in Oxford recently and, of course, the conversation quickly turned to the current plight of the international side under the current boss Stephen Kenny. Ireland have only won once in the 16 games since the ex-Dundalk manager took charge in April 2020, and the nation seems more divided than ever on whether Kenny is the right man to take Ireland forward.
When asked Houghton was in favour of keeping Kenny at the helm for now, but he also didn’t spare the Republic of Ireland boss from criticism of the results since he came into the post…
Football is a results industry and people say, ‘oh well, you know that’s short-termism’. Well, it might be, but the reality is every Republic of Ireland manager (and the players) has always been judged on what you’ve done on the pitch. There’s no good saying, ‘well in four years’ time this is what we might do’. That’s because in four years’ time you don’t know where you’re going to be.
You don’t know whether there will be injuries to players, or who has retired, what players are going through, so you can’t plan that far down the line.
It’s about the here and now.
Now, Stephen was someone who the Irish fans wanted to have this opportunity. But, he’s come in and won one game against Andorra. His win ratio as a manager is at 6.25 per cent. I think the lowest next to that I can remember was 35, which might have been Steve Staunton.
Jack Charlton had 50, Brian Kerr had 55, and Giovanni Trapattoni had 40 plus, same with Martin O’Neil. When those managers came in, they were been judged on the win ratio and what they were doing in that campaign. It wouldn’t have been about – well let’s forget that one we’ll look at the next one down the line!
Now, I’ve got sympathy for Stephen. He came in at a time when there were no fans coming into the stadium. There was definitely a loss of some of the older players, David McGoldrick moved on, one or two others and we don’t have enough youngsters coming through. Certainly, the league in Ireland isn’t quite the strength that we’d like it to be.
We would like to improve that to keep more players at home, instead of the youngsters coming over to England. Then, because of the size of squads, they’re not getting opportunities. Maybe that would be more beneficial to Stephen and the team.
I would certainly keep Stephen at the moment, and I would be in no rush at this stage to change manager.
I think we do that a little bit too often. I’d give him the campaign and then I would assess where we finished, how many points did we get, and is there improvement as far as the team is concerned? They are the categories that the FAI should be looking at.
Don’t change at this stage, wait until the end of the campaign. But, I’ll go back to that’s how you judge a manager is what have you achieved, what have you done, what games have you won, what have you lost, what were the reasons why you lost? Then we’ve got to assess all that and make a big judgement call at the end of the campaign.
Now, we’ve got to be the aggressors. We’ve got to take the game to the opposition and at the moment there’s a fixation in Ireland with possession, keep the ball playing out from the back.
That’s fine and I don’t mind that idea. As a player we would’ve like that, just playing out from the back. But, there are two sides to a pitch. At the other end of the field we’re not creating a lot chances at the moment, we’re not getting enough players into the box, and we don’t look like we’re going to score enough goals.
You can’t just do all one side and say, ‘oh, I’ll do this for quite a while and then we’ll worry about that later’. People can’t work that way, you have to work on both aspects of the game – passing out, play at the other end of the field and think about how do we open up the opposition to score goals? But, in the two home games that we’ve played against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan – two teams, in all due respect we should be beating – we’ve picked up one point!
That’s the reality of it, and that’s where your detractors who are saying Stephen should move on come from. Fine, we see what you’re doing against the bigger sides. But, against the teams we should be beating, we’re not doing enough to win in those games.
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