Soccer

Brendan Crossan: Ireland coach Vera Pauw doesn't deserve to be in the dock again

Republic of Ireland manager, Vera Pauw, coaches during a training session at the Tallaght Stadium, Dublin on Wednesday
Republic of Ireland manager, Vera Pauw, coaches during a training session at the Tallaght Stadium, Dublin on Wednesday

WEDNESDAY afternoon in Tallaght Stadium was the first time I’d sat in on one of Vera Pauw's press conferences.

Not for the first time, storm clouds hung over the Dutch woman.

Like a lot of people, I’ve read around the allegations made by players and staff of Houston Dash against Pauw, dating back to her brief coaching stint there in 2018.

Much the same allegations resurfaced earlier this week in an article published in The Athletic that ran to over 7,000 words.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Pauw as she leads the Ireland women’s team to their first-ever World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand later this month.

Wednesday was the first time Pauw faced the media since The Athletic article appeared, which quoted anonymous sources extensively from the Houston club alleging their former coach was excessive in her control of the players.

Pauw contributed to the article in a bid to defend her position and to beseech The Athletic to investigate the treatment of female coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League with similar vigour.

Normally, media officers prefer controlled, choreographed press events. Basically, no dramas.

The assembled media can only assume that it was Pauw’s decision to address the repeated allegations head on and field follow-up questions.

What was noteworthy about Wednesday's media briefing that lasted just short of 30 minutes was the coolness between Pauw and her captain, Katie McCabe, who accompanied her coach.

There was no resoluteness on behalf of McCabe to back her under-fire manager, especially with their first World Cup match just 15 days away.

It reminded me a little bit of Brian Kerr clinging to the Republic of Ireland job by his fingernails before a 2006 World Cup qualifier in Cyprus and where Kenny Cunningham never offered his manager any meaningful backing in the pre-match press conference when he’d ample opportunity to do so.

Manager and player, side by side, Kerr was left hanging. The press conference revealed the brutal nature of elite sport.

Pauw, I felt, was left hanging in similar fashion by McCabe.

The Arsenal midfielder was asked if the Irish squad was content with Pauw’s answers to the allegations.

Her reply was rambling and revealing.

“I can't answer for each and every player,” McCabe said. “Of course, Vera has a style of management that we're used to now over the last two years.

“We’ve argued with each other, of course. You're never going to get on 100 per cent with your manager at times.

“She pushes me, and I push her. In my opinion, and from my personal relationship with Vera, of course, we've clashed many a times but we’re always professional enough to make sure we are fully focused for the team.

“We know both of our hearts are in the right place in terms of what works best for the Ireland women’s national team going forward. And again, of course, the article’s timing is not great, but our full focus will be France [last night] and then going into Colombia next week and then obviously kicking off our first ever World Cup.”

But did she want Pauw to stay beyond the World Cup finals? McCabe side-stepped the question.

You sense McCabe doesn’t rate Pauw.

Pauw has a managerial style that the Irish players are “used to now”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

McCabe’s comments imply Pauw is difficult.

To be clear, this is not a clunky attempt to conflate the allegations made against Pauw and McCabe’s lukewarm feelings towards her international manager.

I was impressed by Pauw in Wednesday’s press conference. Whether she’s liked or disliked among the Irish squad, she seems to wear her heart on her sleeve.

And while criticism was aimed at her for indulging The Athletic by contributing to the article, which gave the allegations even greater traction right on the doorstep of the World Cup, you can understand why she did it.

By her speaking with The Athletic, Pauw effectively guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage in the Irish media of the allegations she so strongly refutes.

Noise that the FAI and the squad don't need.

“I did not want to answer but then they said: ‘Oh well, we’re going to write it anyway.’” Pauw explained.

For what it’s worth, the allegations made against Pauw are a bit watery.

They were watery in December when they first emerged in a National Women’s Soccer League report on player welfare and they are watery now.

It doesn’t help the case against Pauw that the allegations are anonymised sources.

For the story to improve its credibility rating, some of those sources who cried foul last December and probably did so again this week needed to waive their anonymous status.

In this 24/7 media industry, it would have taken a brave, single-minded editor to decree that their outlet would not be running anything relating to The Athletic article because it was rehashing old allegations, and therefore it was an old story that got a generous airing first time around.

Sometimes this is the noise industry.

And you could justifiably ask, did the story deserve Off the Ball’s address to the nation?

Personally, I don’t think it was deserved, but it served to turn up the heat on an international manager against allegations that no source was comfortable putting their name to.

Some might say they are allegations nonetheless – and that the FAI has a duty of care to its players and to make their own independent enquiries.

McCabe, however, said there has always been dialogue between the players and the association.

In Ireland, we do dismay really well.

And yet we laugh at regaled stories of Brian Clough’s tyrannical and entertaining Nottingham Forest regime back in the day.

We mythologize Fergie’s legendary hair-dryer treatment and cutting David Beckham’s face by kicking a football boot at him during a half-time team-talk.

Changing rooms are robust places.

We love to listen to Roy Keane’s ruthless approach into how he managed players at club and international level.

There were no 7,000-word pieces written about the behaviour of the aforementioned or investigations launched with anonymised accounts hung on them.

The perceived threshold of psychological injury inflicted by a female coach seems to be significantly lower than a male coach at elite level.

Maybe the greatest charge against Vera Pauw is that she's not a great manager and lacks the requisite people skills.

Throwing anything else at the Dutch coach seems a bit unfair.

Under-fire Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw
Under-fire Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw