legend returns | 

Cristiano going for another record bad news for Stephen Kenny and Ireland

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during a training session in Oeiras yesterday. Photo: Armando Franca/AP

Paul McGrath

I love watching Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo playing, For one thing I never thought I’d write that again.

But I wish I had his good looks, his skill, his talent, his brilliance at scoring goals, his everything.

Yet I suspect I am not going to enjoy watching him play next Wednesday night when he seeks to become the greatest international goalscorer ever – at the expense of the Boys in Green.

Cristiano is such a great, great player. We’ve been so lucky to enjoy him and Lionel Messi arriving in our world together.

Normally, there is no doubt about who is the greatest footballer of his time, one player usually stands above all his contem-poraries.

So it was with Pele, with Platini, with Maradona.

But for the last 15 years, Messi and Ronaldo have lit up our football lives and now we in Ireland are about to suffer because of his insatiable desire to set football records.

Of course, Portugal are not just about one great player, they have Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Joao Moutinho and others.

It’s a small consolation, but only a small one, that two more top Portuguese footballers, Renato Sanches and Joao Felix, will miss the Irish match through injury.

Stephen Kenny badly needs to dig a win out of somewhere, yet surely the home matches with Azerbaijan and Serbia are a better option for three points.

Stephen is having a hard time of it with injuries, Covid and what not. He knew, as Under-21 manager when taking on the senior job, just where Ireland stood in terms of talent coming through.

Our lads are finding it so hard to get regular football at their clubs. You cannot possibly step up to international football, against Ronaldo and the lads, off a diet of 20 minutes here and there with your club.

And you cannot step up if those 20 minutes are coming in the Championship or League One. The gulf in standard is too big to bridge.

For Azerbaijan and Serbia, Irish fans return to the Aviva Stadium and that is brilliant, but their return is a double-edged sword for Stephen.

Yes, the team will feed off the crowd’s passion and support. They would have done so as they laboured against Luxembourg last March. But if things are going badly, it could get messy in terms of the backing coming down from the seats.

Stephen enjoys the support of the League of Ireland community, he’s a well-known figure to them.

However, many loyal supporters of the Irish international football team have no interest in LOI, they look to English clubs for inspiration and they wonder about a manager who had to introduce himself to many of our English-based professionals.

Of course, being a football boss is all about results.

Unless you are lucky to have bosses who agree to a five-year plan, it is all about results now.

Stephen hasn’t been given five years grace, he has to start getting wins in order to attract full houses to the Aviva Stadium and to help the FAI secure a commercial sponsor for the Irish team.

In my day, we had an Irish team of lads from the top clubs, Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Celtic.

Twenty years ago, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Gary Kelly and Shay Given were with the best clubs, but we were seeing Championship players joining them too.

Now the Championship, and even League One, is the home league of too many of our players.

Sadly, I fear that Wednesday evening will not be a pleasant one for Irish football.

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