OpinionJohn Aldridge

Martin O'Neill is not the problem

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

I WAS worried when it looked as if Martin O’Neill was about to be offered the chance to return to the Premier League with his old club Leicester – because I still can’t think of a better man to lead Ireland into the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

While I appreciate that some of you may have lost a bit of faith in Martin after what has been a pretty disappointing Euro 2016 qualifying campaign so far, I don’t think the solution to Ire­land’s problems is changing the man in charge every couple of years.

Have a glance at a list of potential candidates to step into O’Neill’s shoes if he leaves his post and it doesn’t inspire me with a whole lot of confidence.

Okay, maybe Roy Keane would fan­cy a go in the job and he might shake things up a little, but I would prefer to stick with a tried and tested manager who has a track record of success – and we already have one who is doing all he can in difficult times for the Irish national team.

As far as I can see, the difference between success and failure in our Euro 2016 qualifying group has been very thin, against teams that are not a million miles ahead of us despite the obvious deficiencies in our squad.

The defeat in the away match in Scotland last November means we are on the back foot in the group and yet that was a game that could so easily have finished 0-0 – if that was the case, we would have been heading into the final four matches with everything to play for.

As it is, we are looking for Scotland to slip up against Georgia away from home and I believe there is every chance they will do just that because in my eyes, Gordon Strachan’s side are nothing special.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that Ireland are nothing special right now either and that comment is by no means a criticism of the lads who have been pulling on the green shirt and giving their all to the cause over the last year or so.

Sadly, as we have all appreciated for some time, we are lacking quality players in a variety of areas of our team and we are crying out for one or two players to come through the ranks.

Who’d have thought we would see the day when Wales would be heading into a draw for the World Cup qualifiers as one of Europe’s top seeded teams?

But that’s the scenario that will be played out next Saturday after they moved into the top ten of the FIFA rankings last month.

Even though there are a few decent players in the Welsh squad, the primary reason why they are on course to qual­ify for their first major tournament is down to a single player, Gareth Bale.

Everyone else in that Welsh squad is thriving around Bale and raising their game because they are in the presence of a world-class performer – that is what Ireland have to hope they can find in the next few years.

I was down in Sligo this week working with kids at an FAI coaching school and the enthusiasm and excitement I saw oozing out of all the youngsters I was lucky enough to work with was a joy to behold.

The FAI are doing some great work promoting the game at grass roots level in Ireland and it would be great to think that the end result will be a few stars coming through to play at the top level.

We have had a legendary goal scorer in Robbie Keane and the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Damien Duff playing for top clubs in the Pre­mier League over the last few years and the only way the Ireland team will move forward is if we unearth a few more to follow in their footsteps.

I don’t think it is a lack of drive or mo­tivation that is blocking the emergence of talented Irish soccer players in 2015, but it is clear that making a break at top Premier League clubs that have the cash to buy the best foreign talent is not helping our cause.

While I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, the draw for Russia 2018 next weekend is unlikely to raise our spirits too much as Ireland will be ranked alongside the minnows of European football, seeded fourth.

That means there is every chance we could end up getting a tough draw, but we should console ourselves with the fact that, as far as I can see, there are not too many teams that you would be terrified to come up against right now.

Okay, so Germany are the power­house of the international game at the moment, but they don’t frighten you in a way Spain did when they were at their best.

All hope is not lost for the Ireland team as we look to the future and, if we can unearth a few star names to replace the heroes of old, then we could see those green shirts back in major tournaments soon.

As for changing the manager? I don’t think that will make a blind bit of difference. So as long as O’Neill and Keane are happy to continue leading the team into the World Cup qualifiers, I say let them get on with the job.

The problem right now is not the people calling the shots on the touchline, but the quality of players they have to pick from.

And I’m afraid that issue will not be