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Monday 22 October 2018

It's not just the FAI...the blame must be taken by us all, but we're too nice in Ireland: Caffrey

CONCERN: Alan Caffrey is worried about Irish football. Photo: Steve Humphreys
CONCERN: Alan Caffrey is worried about Irish football. Photo: Steve Humphreys

In Brazil they have the beautiful game.

In Ireland, we have the blame game, where people point the finger at others for all the failings of Irish soccer.

And one man who has been involved at all levels of the game feels that the easy option, of blaming the FAI for all that's wrong, has to end.

Alan Caffrey has had a foot in many camps - he coached and managed at League of Ireland level (Bohemians), worked at academy level in England (West Brom) and, as a schoolboy coach (St Kevin's Boys), has been a mentor for Ireland stars like Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady.

His main role now is in the link-up between St Kevin's and Bohs, a partnership which took time to get off the ground but which is now seen as a success.

Caffrey has strong views on the perilous state of the game here, as he thinks that Irish football is struggling to feed players into the Premier League as the modern-day footballer is too soft.

He feels that even with the efforts being made to keep young talent here that top talents will always move abroad; and he stresses that the new National League underage structure is not yet the answer but is a work in progress.

"We are right to be worried," says Caffrey. "I think football here will crash in five-10 years' time and the people who are in charge now won't be there so we will have to rebuild.

"I do feel that football in this country is in a state.

"But I also feel you can't just say it's the FAI's fault, and we have all been guilty of that.

Structure

"It's easy to gang up on the FAI but everyone is guilty of box-ticking. The clubs do it, the media do it, schoolboy clubs do it.

"At the moment there is a structure there that looks great but it has become a case of saying the right thing and that's no help."

His fears about the game here start at the very bottom: where kids play.

"If you look around where I live, around Cabra and Ashtown, there are no football pitches, they are gone. There are housing estates with no pitches or green areas and you can trace it all back to that," he says.

"The FAI should be fighting with the government for funding for public pitches, not private ones where you have to pay to play, kids should be able to play on a park but across the northside, in the north inner city, the pitches where lads like Wes Hooalahan played, they are all gone.

"We need to build up a generation who are footballers, who love football, kids need to get out and play but I don't see many places where they can go and play."

Once players start out they play in the schoolboy leagues, usually their ticket to a cross-channel career, but Caffrey is worried about the mindset he sees.

"Everything has to be politically correct, non-competitive football, everything all nice," he sighs.

"Today, if a player is given out to, the parents are up in arms, he will go and leave, go to another club where a coach will tell him he's great.

"We live in a society where you can't criticise, and the consequence is that while our elite players have the talent, they need to be mentally tough and driven, but they aren't. It's too soft for them.

"I would have told the likes of Jack Byrne how it is, tell them straight, but the reaction now from a player, or parent, is completely different and that's part of the problem.

Toughness

"It's not always the manager's fault or the club's fault, it is hard over in England but sometimes you have to suck it up and get on with it.

"Robbie Keane and Damien Duff had to break through and they did it, but from that generation to this one, that mental toughness is not there any more.

"I tell younger players to look at James McClean.

"Say what you want about his talent but he has played for Ireland and in the Premier League, he's a multi-millionaire, and it was his work ethic that got him there.

"Jeff Hendrick was the very same.

"I told a player in England only recently: at what stage do you look in the mirror and say, 'I have talent but it's not getting me anywhere so what do I do?' You have to work at it."

The idea behind the new underage national leagues is that young players see a pathway to a senior career here but Caffrey's unsure.

"I do think our best players have to go abroad because we don't have the set-up here.

Bohemians U19s played against a Danish team in the UEFA Youth League last week, the Danish players have been full-time, properly full-time, since they were 16 and we don't have that here.

"The Bohs players do train most nights and are full-time in theory but it's a different ball game. We don't have the structure here and I don't think we ever will.

No chance

"Until a club has a proper, dedicated training centre, until the players are full-time at 18, you have no chance. You go to England and the odds are not great, but it can be done, Robbie Keane did it, Damien Duff did it. That's the massive draw."

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