O’Neill’s tactics will offer Ireland much of the same


This week the FAI made their decision over who they wanted to replace opinion-dividing Giovanni Trapattoni. Martin O’Neill, with assistance from Roy Keane, was the man chosen to lead our national side into the qualification campaign for the 2016 European Championships. However, the main issue that most Ireland fans had with former boss Trapattoni was the grim style of play implemented, but O’Neill’s appointment doesn’t give Irish fans much hope for change in the future.

o'neill

New Ireland boss O’Neill poses with the team jersey

O’Neill has been long criticised for his style of play. Far from a beautiful, fluid, intricate machine akin to Barcelona that the Northern Irishman claimed he wanted his Sunderland side to play like when he first took charge in December 2011, Martin O’Neill teams are more based the around a foundation of conservative tactics looking to hit their opponents on the break.

This can be classified as quite close to a “route one” style. Long balls to a strong front man to hold up, or into open space behind defenders for wingers to latch onto. This is an ethos shared by the former Ireland boss and the new one, and it shows the direction that the FAI want to continue with, while also showing us what kind of development in the first team that they don’t want to see.

I’m not saying that O’Neill will do a bad job, or will disastrously fail as the Ireland manager; O’Neill does have his good qualities as well. He is probably best known for giving his sides a particular enthusiasm and up-and-atom fighting spirit, transcending from his own animated demeanor on the sidelines of every game. This approach is good for reaping the best performances out of his, sometimes limited, squads.

It’s often argued that he has a proven track record of success in one of the best leagues in the world. But… has he, really?

Well, he has had some success. With Leicester City, he won promotion as well as two League Cups. Further than that he managed to retain lower top-half finishes with the club consistently. I don’t regard his time at Celtic as a whole lot to write home about because of the imbalance in the Scottish Premier League in the Glaswegian club’s favour, but then at Aston Villa achieved relatively similar results on a slightly higher scale than Leicester, reaching 6th place three years in a row.

Of those years finishing sixth with Aston Villa, a couple of times it looked like his side would break the mould of the traditional top four. His side held onto the Champions League spot for a lot of the season, but still always fell away at the end of the campaign, not having the bottle to ride the year out. Looking back at his time at Leicester and Villa, it seemed like O’Neill could take a team someway forward, but always had his limitations on how far he could take them, with progress eventually just halting.

At Sunderland however, he undoubtedly failed. The O’Neill-managed Black Cats didn’t resemble what English football was used to seeing when the former Villa, Celtic, and Leicester boss was in charge at those clubs. Other sides had passed him by, other managers had gotten ahead in the game with their own use of tactics. It was no longer good enough to have players giving 110%, the system was outdated.

For this exact same reason, – outdated tactics – Ireland failed abysmally at the last European Championships. O’Neill is a replacement for the massive core of deadwood in the Ireland set up that Trap had become, but is that really enough? I do envisage an upturn in performances, from the perspective of the players giving tough accounts of themselves, getting into opponents’ faces, but not too much difference in style of play, which will ultimately be most telling. 

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