Wednesday 17 January 2018

O'Neill's deal delay is now beyond joke

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

What's it all about, Martin? Why won't you just get off the fence, sign a new FAI deal and put an end to all the rumour and speculation for once and for all?

If he is fully committed, if it is just a matter of signing a piece of paper, why wait? Why let the whole thing fester and bubble?

After digging out a point in a madcap World Cup qualifier against a very ordinary Serbia, we find ourselves, ridiculously, writing and reading more speculation about the national team manager and Hull City.

We've been doing this since last November. Almost a year and we are no closer, apparently, to finding some closure on the issue.

It is now beyond a joke, despite O'Neill's best attempts to turn the saga into a mildly humourous bit of byplay, a mere detail to be ironed out when it suits him.

And that's only when he's in good form. When he's cranky, he looks at the hacks and just cannot understand why we are so obsessed with this.

Here's why. For most ordinary mortals, certainty is good. It means you can make plans and look ahead.

For most ordinary mortals and indeed the FAI, it's good to wake up in the morning and feel stability under your feet.


But not O'Neill. He's different from the rest of us and the vast majority of professional footballers and managers who hire teams of agents and lawyers to make sure that contracts get signed.

O'Neill shrugs off the necessity to clear up his employment circumstances beyond all doubt and sets himself to one side. The usual rules don't seem to apply here.

What is more than irritating at this stage is the intemperate response he often gives to the question, a question he has created himself by not dealing with matter in a decisive way.

It looks childish and petulant and there is no reason for any of this if the handshake agreement he made with FAI CEO John Delaney is binding. But is it?

O'Neill could simply make an incontrovertible statement on the subject but he never does.

His words are always couched in ifs and buts and that only leaves the very distinct impression that there is more bubbling under the surface.

"Who knows what might happen," he said the day before Serbia and immediately gave some legs to the Hull yarn.

The FAI have been largely silent on the matter and let's face it, what can they say?

From the outside looking in, it looks like they have no power over what O'Neill does or doesn't do and with every new wishy-washy, grey comment about the subject from the manager, their position gets weaker.

O'Neill will, no doubt, throw his hands up in the air and wonder why we're not talking about the "magnificent" comeback in Belgrade when it's all down to him.

Magnificent is a very big word and not entirely appropriate. Ireland got themselves into a hole in the Red Star Stadium by handing the ball gift-wrapped to a poor Serbian team which had some ability moving forward but were a mess at the back.

The football we saw and enjoyed from Ireland in France was entirely absent and instead of kicking on after Jeff Hendrick's surprise early goal, the players sat back and threw their fate to the wind on a pitch which made action in the penalty area a complete lottery.

By the time the game was over, both penalty areas looked like two meaty rugby packs had been shuffling back and forward in a series of turf-tearing scrums.

Credit is due to the players for finding a way to get a draw and this underlined a very satisfying habit which this team has acquired of scoring late goals and hanging in when others might have abandoned the effort.

O'Neill is due some praise too for creating the environment in which this works. But that only makes his dogged refusal to put an end to the contract story all the more baffling.

There is one scenario which would explain it all. What if O'Neill fancies both jobs? What if he wants to manage Hull and Ireland?

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