Brendan Crossan: Is John O’Shea really out of the running for Ireland post?

Lee Carsley may have wrong-footed FAI

England Under-21s boss Lee Carsley has ruled himself out of the race to succeed Stephen Kenny as Republic of Ireland head coach
England Under-21s boss Lee Carsley has ruled himself out of the race to succeed Stephen Kenny as Republic of Ireland head coach Lee Carsley has ruled himself out of the race to succeed Stephen Kenny as Republic of Ireland head coach (Jacob King/PA)

SINCE last November the Irish football community wondered of Lee Carsley’s whereabouts. Heavily tipped in the Irish media to be unveiled as the Republic of Ireland’s next senior manager, Carsley dashed those hope earlier this week, confirming he’d be staying with England’s U21s.

In an interview with The Daily Mail, Carsley said: “We had an initial conversation in November. I went to speak to them. Really informal, enjoyable, for around an hour. It went no further.

“It was good to see what their thoughts were and to explore whether I was ready to take that next step. It just went no further. I didn’t push it.

“I’ve always said that I’m really privileged to do this job I’m in. I appreciate that I’m in a really good position with a lot of responsibility.”

It only took the 40-times capped former Ireland midfielder four months to announce he wouldn’t be taking over from Stephen Kenny.

Had he released a statement soon after the November meeting with the FAI that he was staying put with the English FA, it would have saved a lot of newspaper ink and a thousand speculative online reports linking him to the vacancy.

Amid his carefully choreographed words, there was enough in them to suggest that Carsley was thinking about becoming Ireland manager.

You don’t go to the bother of meeting FAI officials if you’re not interested, no matter how “informal” you perceive those talks to be.

One train of thought was that Carsley was going to see out the next two matches with England’s U21s this month and then announce he would be Ireland’s next manager.

It also fitted the FAI’s narrative of their intentions to unveil the next senior manager in “early April”.

At John O’Shea’s first press conference as interim manager, the FAI’s Director of Football Marc Canham said he couldn’t reveal the identity of the next manager because of contractual obligations, while seemingly ruling out O’Shea ever getting the gig on a permanent basis.

Again, feeding the frenzy that it would indeed by Carsley.

And, anyway, who else has contractual obligations up until early April?

Could it be former Ireland coach Anthony Barry who is expected to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season following the club’s announcement that Thomas Tuchel will part ways with the Bundesliga giants at the end of the season?

Surely that makes Barry a free agent now.

Highly rated among the Irish players who worked with him in the brief period he was part of Stephen Kenny’s backroom team, Barry has no experience as a manager.

In every interview with the media, Marc Canham has presented well, explaining the FAI was tantalisingly close to appointing the new senior manager – or ‘head coach’, to get the terminology right.

But the managerial search is approaching five months. Which is far too long and suggests it’s been a process full of glitches and setbacks.

It’s been so long that a press release from one bookmaker on Thursday called the previous manager Michael Kenny instead of Stephen.

“Speed wasn’t a measure of success for this process,” Canham said. He’s absolutely correct on that one.

In an interview with The Irish News earlier this month, Ray Houghton tried to give the FAI a bit of breathing space as he was involved in trying to find an Ireland manager after Steve Staunton departed in 2007.

“I don’t blame the FAI for being patient,” said the former Ireland midfielder.

“I’ve been there when we brought in Giovanni Trapattoni – Don Howe, Don Givens and myself were the three tasked with going to talk to a variety of managers.

“We went all over Europe and it’s not easy. You know there’s a huge onus on you to get it right and I think that’s the same with the FAI; they know that they have to bring in someone who’s going to appease the fans and are going to bring them back to watching matches because we’re not qualifying at the moment and we’re not finishing high in the groups.”

But with Carsley rejecting the FAI’s overtures, it has chipped away at the confidence in the interminably long process.

Georgia manager Willy Sagnol and Greece manager Gus Poyet have been touted as possible successors and feature in the bookmakers odds – who hasn’t at this stage? - but both men are tied up until at least the Euro 2024 play-offs conclude on March 26.

Maybe their “contractual obligations” are what Canham was referring to.

Or maybe the FAI will turn their attention to their interim manager and give him a shot at the job should the friendly performances against Belgium and Switzerland go well over the coming days.

Maybe O’Shea is the only show in town now after Carsley’s eventual decline.

O’Shea knows the terrain, knows the players, has surrounded himself with good people and a wealth of experience in Brian Kerr.

And while Canham, sitting to O’Shea’s left in that press conference in the Aviva Stadium earlier in March, was ruling him out of becoming the next permanent head coach, the interim manager himself was less emphatic.

Possession is still nine-tenths of the law. O’Shea currently holds the reins.

And with the goalkeeper, defensive and striking positions looking much brighter than they ever did under Stephen Kenny, what O’Shea – and indeed Ireland – wouldn’t do for a bit more quality in the middle of the field.