If names have been plucked from almost every corner of the globe to create a media-driven shortlist of candidates, the truth is that the Football Association of Ireland hasn’t the remotest idea of who will fill McCarthy’s boots.
In essence, McCarthy walked — and walk he most certainly did with a distinctly modest payoff of $50,000 — after six and a half years in charge because the shadow cast by Roy Keane over his stewardship of the Irish international team was growing longer by the day.
McCarthy may continue to insist that it was a combination of the section of supporters who booed him after the recent 2-1 European championship qualifying defeat by Switzerland at Lansdowne Road, and the negative effect the speculation over his future was having on his players that finally tipped him over the edge. However, Keane in absentia turned out to be the major factor.
With opinion on the controversy of Saipan still polarized in Ireland, and with the two main protagonists both addressing the bitterness of the World Cup in their respective books, McCarthy was never going to be able to bury the events that led to the dismissal of Keane just days before the start of last summer’s finals in Japan. Even if the team had continued to perform — which it didn’t, with back-to-back defeats at the start of the European campaign — the questions about He Who Refused to Play would’ve continued unabated.
Despite McCarthy’s expressed wish to take the players to the Euro 2004 finals, he was more than willing last week to do business with the FAI and tear up his contract. In his parting, he remained someone deeply resentful and distrustful of most of the Irish media, a manager who found a conspiracy theory in every analogy, a jibe in every simile. He might have matured as a coach from the stumbling early days of the mid-1990s to the high point — on the pitch anyway — of the 2002 World Cup finals just a few months ago, but he wasn’t quitting while he was ahead. His legacy has been severely tainted by Ireland’s best player, who memorably concluded in his autobiography that McCarthy could “rot in hell.”
So now, Bryan Robson, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Kinnear, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Uncle Tom Cobbly are beating a path to the FAI’s door if we’re to believe the tabloids and the bookmakers. As the headlines continue each day, the reality is that no one has applied for the job and no one has been offered it.
There was heightened speculation that the former Liverpool player and Real Madrid manager John Toshack was the preferred choice of the FAI. But while Toshack was supposedly in intense negotiations over a six-year deal, he was in fact agreeing to take over as coach of Catania, a second division club in the Italian League.
With that endorsement of the Ireland job ringing in the FAI’s ears, the association must know that they have little chance of attracting a high-profile candidate. The salary won’t be sufficient, for starters, and since the FAI’s reputation for incompetence has hardly been improved by the disaster that masqueraded as public relations in Saipan, what right-minded, thoughtful manager would want such a bunch of misguided amateurs as his bosses?
Equally, the FAI privately may want someone who can cajole Keane into returning. That would be a serious error, as Keane’s manager at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, has already hinted that he would not be supportive of his captain making an international comeback. Keane, as the FAI knows only too well, is a law unto himself and counting on him to make some decision for the perceived benefit of Irish soccer would be plain stupid.
One man who almost certainly involved on or off the pitch with the Ireland setup is Niall Quinn, who announced his retirement last weekend. The player who raised