Is Stephen Kenny’s four-year plan on identical web page because the FAI?
Just when we thought Steve Staunton’s four-year plan was a thing of the past, Stephen Kenny came over to borrow the blueprint.
The difference between the two Stephens is that Stan’s grand vision was at least approved by his employers.
So that we don’t forget, it hasn’t reached the middle.
Kenny, on the other hand, has been recruited for a single campaign for this World Cup, although his contract will be postponed to the start of the Nations League qualifying round next year due to the change in Qatar’s flagship model from the summer to the winter months.
Still, John Delaney’s unorthodox succession plan, in which Kenny succeeds Mick McCarthy, has taken a new turn based on the incumbent’s revelations on the eve of the Serbian visit to Lansdowne Road.
Because, according to Kenny, his energy has always flowed into building and consolidating a squad that would qualify for the 24-nation European championship in 2024.
Reaching the World Cup – which Ireland reached in a play-off in two of their last three tournaments – was never a realistic prospect, in his opinion.
This marked the first time Kenny’s Strategic Approach had aired publicly since McCarthy was replaced 17 months ago.
Significantly, however, the manager refused to confirm that the schedule was in line with the FAI hierarchy.
It is certainly not an agenda that has been approved by the association’s board of directors, the forum that ultimately decides the fate of the top executives.
Some directors were upset by the manager’s solo run, not the first time his media comments have caused confusion in the boardroom.
The only obstacle to Kenny’s noble prospects is that his current employment does not reach the climax predicted.
His contract expires in July 2021, seven months before qualifying for Euro 2024 begins.
Like every coach since Delaney generously handed rookie Staunton a four-year contract in January 2006, Kenny has to earn his eligibility for an extension.
And while the majority of the FAI board members, chiefly Chairman Roy Barrett, tempered his early struggles, the overall record is overwhelmingly devastating.
One win in 15 games and no wins in 11 competitive games results in him overseeing a team about to be eliminated from World Cup competition with only three dead rubbers lurking at the end of the year.
That is the reality and the reason why contingencies are already explored behind the scenes.
As described in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, too much is at stake in an organization that seeks financial self-sufficiency for probation periods to become the norm.
Tight finances and the lack of successor candidates will not spare Kenny.
Much like Mick McCarthy’s first term, along with the spells of Staunton and Brian Kerr, some level of on-the-job learning is inevitable.
However, this will only be tolerated for so long if lessons are not learned.
While the coach was rightly lauded for his selection and tactics in last Wednesday’s late loss to Portugal, he was deemed equally wrong on both fronts three days later.
Azerbaijan was welcomed too much by Ireland at the Aviva Stadium as the guests got tired of the space that Kenny’s two-man midfield had created.
He can portray as much as he wants, a sky-blue picture of an Irish team with a bevy of his graduates taking Europe by storm and planting themselves as Supremo, but if there is no significant improvement in consistency, his day of reckoning is upon us .
“With Portugal and Serbia in the group and the backbone torn from the group last season, did anyone think we were favorites to qualify or that we should qualify?” He said about a campaign that Ireland has taken a point of 12 off.
“We didn’t try not to win these qualifiers and the expectation was to beat Luxembourg and Azerbaijan at home, but there is a plan.
“I made a decision – right or wrong – to put this squad together into a really, really competitive team in order to qualify for Germany in 2024.
“I think there has been real improvement overall, to be honest. I and the employees see it that way and there are a lot of people behind us.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t, who say, ‘It’s not your job to develop the game here, your job is just to win the next game.’
“This type of nearsightedness doesn’t work. You can beat teams that you should beat, but you will never beat the teams that you want to beat.
“You try to build something tangible over a longer period of time, and that can be successful.”
When asked if his bosses agreed, his response highlighted the kind of dysfunction the FAI hoped left with the last regime.
“No (but) I think the FAI knew when I was appointed that they had good players coming through the system,” he said.
“You would have been realistic that we had not qualified for the World Cup since 2002 and the difficulty now with the guaranteed group winner is the qualification.
“We discussed it, but I’m not really going to get into internal discussions between myself and everyone else within the FAI.”
Serbia owns the armory to complicate these talks, but if Kenny shows half the fight he made yesterday, he could stumble longer than his namesake and favorite Dundalk did 14 years ago.