Saturday, July 20, 2024

Heimir Hallgrímsson, welcome to Irish football’s dysfunction

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An hour or two before the FAI ended a 231-day wait since cutting Stephen Kenny loose and naming Heimir Hallgrímsson as the new Republic of Ireland “head coach”, Damien Duff held a press conference in Tolka Park on Wednesday afternoon.

The Shelbourne FC manager has repeatedly criticised the association’s “embarrassing” recruitment process led by its director of football Marc Canham.

A question about Shels being forced to narrow the Tolka pitch ahead of Thursday night’s Europa Conference League qualifier against St Joseph’s of Gibraltar prompted his latest dig: “Here, you know the Uefa rule book, it’s bigger than Marc Canham’s.”

Duff went on to describe the FAI as being no longer fit for purpose. The appointment of Hallgrímsson will not assuage the growing number of people in Irish life who agree with the former Chelsea winger.

But the Icelander ticks Canham’s many boxes. Genuine international experience, check. On-the-grass-coach, check.

Hallgrímsson is charismatic enough to hold a room of players, media, even fans, and clearly the 57-year-old is a decent operator. His club record in Iceland and Qatar is average at best, as his teams conceded more than they scored, but what Iceland achieved when he was co-manager at Euro 2016 and the lone gaffer at the 2018 World Cup are almost beyond comprehension.

The Second Captain’s jingle about “Sigthórsson’s” goal to knock England out of that Euros, and launch their greatest ever major tournament revival under Gareth Southgate, should get an airing this week. As will the 1-1 draw with Argentina in Moscow when Lionel Messi was unable to beat Hannes Halldorsson.

Of greater relevance, as Jamaica manager until earlier this month, his team won 10, lost 10 while scoring and conceding 37 goals.

Nonetheless, the FAI have their man, and if their press release is to be believed, Hallgrímsson was Canham’s first choice all along. Not Lee Carsley. Not Roy Keane. Not Willy Sagnol, Gus Poyet, Chris Hughton, Duff, and especially not interim manager John O’Shea.

“Earlier this year, we identified Heimir as our number one candidate whose capabilities and experience aligned with our criteria,” said Canham.

Earlier than March 4th, when he stated that “existing contractual obligations” had slowed the appointment until “early April”?

Director of Football Marc Canham. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jamaica qualified for the Copa America way back in November 2023.

Despite allegations of inappropriate behaviour by male coaches towards Irish female footballers in the 1990s and a previous intent not to overshadow the current women’s team before they play England on Friday in a Euro 2025 qualifier, there was a celebratory tone as the FAI executives lined up to provide snap quotes.

“This is a significant day for Irish football,” said David Courell, the interim chief executive. “A tremendous appointment for the association,” said Tony Keohane, chairperson of the board.

But it was Paul Cooke, the current FAI president, who provided some fresh information: “I would like to thank my fellow members of the recruitment panel, David Courell, Aoife Rafferty, Packie Bonner and in particular our Director of Football Marc Canham who collectively ran a very thorough and confidential process which was respectful of the candidates involved and which identified and secured the standout candidate.”

This suggests all is well in Irish football again. In reality, the climate Hallgrímsson arrives into has Duff expressing a desire to “raze Abbotstown to the ground” and “sack 90 per cent of the workforce.”

“Success is not a destination,” Hallgrímsson told the New York Times in 2018. “It’s a continuous journey. That’s the only way you can think when you’re an underdog.”

The dentist turned gaffer is about to discover the 20-year facilities drive that allowed Iceland to build a football industry is currently in year-minus-one on the neighbouring Atlantic island. Velkominn til Írlands, Heimir.

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