'I was never worried for my job, I had a clear vision', says Ireland boss Stephen Kenny
Ireland boss says he ‘wasn’t focused’ on new deal as he indicates future will be less experimental
Stephen Kenny insists that he was never worried about losing his job during Ireland’s turbulent World Cup campaign but admitted that the lessons of a scarring night in Wembley had a big impact on the direction of his team.
Kenny has been given the reins for the Euro 2024 after bouncing back from low points of the ill-fated attempt to reach Qatar with a home defeat to Luxembourg and draw to Azerbaijan generating debate around his position.
The Ireland manager went off script yesterday to invite members of the press to a new tactical analysis room at FAI HQ and run through clips of the past year to highlight improvements and lessons.
When asked if he was concerned that he wouldn’t get a chance to continue his work – with the muted crowd reaction to September’s draw with Azerbaijan in Dublin referenced – Kenny stressed he had full belief a corner was already being turned at that juncture.
“I was disappointed with the result – not to win the game – but I wasn’t worried, I had a clear view of what I wanted to do,” said Kenny, “We had a game against Serbia afterwards and at that stage you are not thinking about implications, you are just trying to get the team ready for Serbia.
“It’s not something I was focusing on, that I had to get results to get a new deal, I was very determined to stay as manager of Ireland as it’s a huge privilege. It’s the highest honour you can have. It’s not something you want to let go easily.”
Kenny indicated that there will be less experimentation from this point onwards as Ireland seek to plot a course towards Germany in 2024.
Kenny says the 3-0 friendly defeat to England in November 2020 was a night that helped to inform his opinion that a different approach was needed against stronger sides. While the fallout was dominated by the ‘Videogate’ furore, he was upset that Ireland were locked in a low block for the final quarter.
“We didn’t have our strongest team out but in the second half they had 3-4-2-1 against us and they had Reece James and (Bukayo) Saka as the wing-backs, with (Jadon) Sancho and (Jack) Grealish both flying as their two 10s.
“We were a bit unbalanced but they forced us into a low block in our 4-2-3-1. We couldn’t get out of our low block for a while, couldn’t get out of it in the second half, and after that I said: ‘Never ever again will that ever happen. Ever.’ We needed to change. We had the players to play three (at the back). It suited.”
FAI CEO Jonathan Hill hopes that certainty around Kenny’s position will help the Association’s hunt for a new sponsor, feeling that the emergence of a side with strong personalities from different backgrounds should also help.
He effectively confirmed that discussion around severance terms in Kenny’s contract – in the event of the FAI deciding to make a sudden change – was a factor in the somewhat protracted process of getting the deal done.
“In any contract, in terms of an employment contract, there would be a provision in there for a point of which you exit,” said Hill.
“That’s within Stephen’s contract. That was part of the to-ing and fro-ing I mentioned earlier about our debate. Stephen is comfortable where we’ve got to; we’re comfortable where we’ve got to. I’m not going into the detail of it but it’s all pretty standard stuff.”
Meanwhile, Hill confirmed that Robbie Keane’s €250,000 contract with the Association expires this summer but refused to be drawn on any discussions that have taken place with the Dubliner about resolving his position.
Ireland’s record goalscorer was a member of Mick McCarthy’s coaching staff but the previous FAI administration offered him a longer-term deal even though Kenny was given the freedom to select his backroom staff and decided to proceed without Keane
“The last time we spoke, I said I’d agreed with Robbie not to talk about that publicly,” said Hill.
“That’s between ourselves and Robbie in relation to his contract. Nothing has changed.”
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