The FAI might have been better holding on to Stephen Kenny: Mark Lawrenson

‘The FAI can’t seem to make a decision’

Mark Lawrenson
Mark Lawrenson says the FAI need to hurry up and make a senior managerial appointment (Mike Egerton/PA)

FORMER Republic of Ireland defender Mark Lawrenson believes that the FAI might have been better retaining the services of Stephen Kenny as the interminable search continues to find his successor.

After three years as Ireland manager and failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup finals and Euro 2024, Kenny’s contract wasn’t renewed last November.

And as one deadline to appoint a new senior manager slips after another, Lawrenson feels that the Dubliner was doing a “good job” with the limited resources he had at his disposal.

“In terms of midfield players, for want of a better description, we had journeymen,” said the former Liverpool player.

“We’ve nobody that’ll get on the ball and make a difference. In saying that, the last guy in the job [Stephen Kenny] actually did well.

“Yes, of course, it’s a results business but you could see what Stephen was trying to do. You can’t buy any players. You get whatever you get, and you mould them into a team which tells you how lucky we were before with Jack [Charlton].

“Even [Evan] Ferguson has had a bit of a blip. It’s his second season which is pretty normal, but you look at the players we have and the teams that we normally beat have all gotten better while we probably haven’t raised our standards.”

Kenny, who has been appointed St Patrick’s Athletic manager, took the reins in the middle of a global pandemic and was badly hampered by COVID regulations and absenteeism.

Ireland finished a distant third behind favourites Portugal and Serbia in the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign and fourth for Euro 2024 behind France, Holland and Greece.

Ireland’s second Nations League campaign, post-COVID, was generally uninspiring too.

But there were some encouraging performances during his reign too, notably home and away against Portugal, Ukraine in Lodz and their narrow loss to France in Dublin.

“I think Stephen improved the team. He wanted to play a certain way. We just basically couldn’t load the bullets and we couldn’t fire them; there probably weren’t any bullets to fire.

“He made us difficult to beat, we were nice on the eye, [but] it always goes back to the quality of the players that you’ve got and we just didn’t have good enough players.”

Lawrenson, who played 39 times for Ireland between 1977 and ‘87, feels that interim boss John O’Shea should be given the job on a full-time basis - if David Moyes, recently departed West Ham wasn’t interested in the role.

FAI sporting director Marc Canham was lukewarm to the idea of O’Shea - a largely inexperienced candidate - taking the job on a permanent basis.

The former Manchester United defender oversaw a scoreless draw with Belgium and a 1-0 home defeat to Switzerland in the last international window - and he’s again in temporary charge for next month’s friendlies with Hungary and Portugal.

“John’s a nice guy,” Lawrenson said. “He probably wants to bang a few heads together and say: ‘It’s either me or it’s not me’.

“You can understand why he’s hanging on in there because the more you look at it, the less chance of someone else taking it. They might as well give it to him - and he wants it as well.

“And Brian Kerr would be in there as well, an old head. Just give John the job. What’s the worst thing that can happen? We don’t qualify for a tournament?

“It has been too long because it seems nobody wants it that nobody at the FAI can make a decision. From that point of view, give John O’Shea a go. I mean, we’re not in the Euros but you need somebody to go and watch all the games.

“Or maybe someone at the FAI should ring David Moyes up. He might just fancy it.”

Lawrenson spent his peak playing years at Liverpool (1981 to ‘88) and had short managerial spells with Oxford United and Peterborough before entering the world of punditry.

He’s still an avid watcher of the game but isn’t overly impressed with today’s standards beyond the top tier.

“Today’s game is like anything: it’s good and bad. The top players are brilliant players. You always look at things when you were there and it is totally different now.

“You’re thinking if we had all the stuff the players have today – the physiotherapy, the training, everything in the training ground - but we just played. In many ways it’s better, but VAR has made the game worse, the time-wasting. I watch a load of games and the top teams are good but there’s a lot of dross as well.”

Mark Lawrenson was speaking to The Irish News on behalf of Best Online Poker Sites