NEWS OF LIAM Brady’s imminent departure from his job as Head of Arsenal’s Youth Development, which was confirmed this week, inevitably raised questions about a potential return to the Ireland fold.
Brady previously served as one of Giovanni Trapattoni’s assistants, until after the ill-fated World Cup qualifying playoff against France in 2009, when he decided not to renew his contract in the role.
The prospect of the ex-Celtic and Brighton boss taking over as Ireland coach would undoubtedly be met with a mixed reception. Some would feel that, having been heavily involved at one point with Trap at the helm, he would similarly be unable to play the kind of attractive football that many Irish fans have been crying out for.
His recent ardent defences of the Ireland boss, while working as a pundit for RTE, only strengthens some critics’ assertions that he wouldn’t do much to improve the side, on account of his staunch and relentless backing of the veteran coach.
Moreover, as Steve Staunton’s tenure illustrated, legends for their countries rarely make great managers. Brady’s brief managerial career would also do little to reverse these criticisms, given that he was a virtual flop at both Celtic and Brighton.
However, there are alternative arguments in the former Juventus player’s favour.
His time at Arsenal, for instance, has been an unequivocal success. One of Brady’s perceived flaws as a manager was his tendency to show poor judgement in the transfer market – Tony Cascarino’s failure to produce the goods after a big-money move to Celtic was one glaring example of this failing. At the London club though, he did not need to worry about the pressure of spending millions on players. His role had more of an emphasis on man-management and coaxing youngsters into reaching their full potential.
Similarly, with Ireland, one of the keys to success would be man management – an area where Trap has conspicuously failed on numerous occasions, with Stephen Kelly ostensibly being the latest player to fall out with the Italian.
Brady, on the other hand, appeared to be quite popular with the players during his brief time involved with the Ireland set-up, and was even said to have joined them for a sing-song on occasion. Hence, at the very least, he would be unlikely to alienate himself from as many players as Trap has done.
Nevertheless, some will still claim there are better candidates out there than Brady when Trap does decide to step aside. However, it also must be acknowledged that the FAI are currently not exactly flush with cash. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that they’ll be once again willing to provide the funds for another high-profile manager.
Names such as Chris Hughton and Martin O’Neill would be welcomed by most with open arms. Yet it seems unrealistic to expect either to leave a Premier League club and presumably suffer a drop of wages, purely out of patriotism for their country. Roy Keane, meanwhile, would arguably be too reminiscent of Trap, given his history of similarly eccentric selection policies and propensity for alienating players. Mick McCarthy is not a bad alternative, but having only recently taken over at Ipswich, it remains less than certain as to whether he’d be willing to leave his team at short notice, for such an unglamorous job as the Ireland one.
In addition, despite Brady’s lacklustre managerial record, there is no doubting his understanding and passion for the game. His RTE analysis provides evidence of these attributes, as his time at Arsenal has done.
And for those still unconvinced that Brady would radically alter a side immersed in the bad habits implemented by Trap, look at the players he nurtured at Arsenal. The 56-year-old is understood to have played a significant role in the development of Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas among others, so surely he’d be willing to attempt to instigate a similar philosophy into the Ireland set-up, while the fact that he worked closely with one of the sport’s most eminent coaches – Arsene Wenger – is another point in his favour.
Under Brady’s guidance, James McCarthy could become the player we all suspect he is capable of turning into, while older technical players such as Wes Hoolahan could finally be given a proper chance in an Irish jersey.
Of course, for now, Trap’s position deserves to be respected and the FAI must wait, at the very least, until the end of the World Cup qualifiers to determine his fate.
But if Ireland are interested in playing successful and ideally attractive football thereafter, the FAI could do worse than place their faith in the Arsenal legend.