Last week’s international break has brought about jubilant scenes on the streets of Cairo, Reykjavík and Panama City. In stark contrast, as Harry Kane sealed England’s World Cup qualification, large swathes of the Wembley crowd were already on their way home, trying to beat the rush for the tube.
It’s all a far cry from Beckham against Greece. After their routine qualification, made up of insipid performances which failed to banish the memories of THAT defeat to Iceland, I have fallen out of love with the England football team.
However, I enjoyed watching Wales take on the Republic of Ireland in a winner takes all match in Cardiff on Monday. It looked to be an incredibly even contest with perhaps home territory giving the Welsh an advantage. Not a bit of it. As a Wycombe Wanderers fan of a certain age, I knew that there was only ever going to be one winner in this game, and that was Martin O’Neill’s Ireland.
With a team made up of solid professionals without a superstar amongst them, Ireland negotiated a tricky group to secure a second place play-off spot. In doing so, they were unbeaten on the road. Their magnificent team spirit, coupled with O’Neill’s tactical nous and big match mentality, was there for all to see in Cardiff.
Now, I’ve been known to be partial to a pint of Guinness, but even Andy Townsend is significantly more Irish than me. Nonetheless, I was rooting for the Republic. I have never met Martin O’Neill, but I can safely say that as a result of his magical spell at Adams Park, I would run through a brick wall for him. I’d probably even wash his car every Sunday if he asked me to.
I may well have my nostalgic blue quartered glasses firmly on, but has anyone else contemplated what it would be like to have Martin O’Neill as manager of England?
I think he would be the perfect fit. Throughout his managerial career, O’Neill has seen his teams consistently achieve more than their individual constituent parts would have you believe was possible.
There has been plenty of talk in the media about England not having enough quality players to go far in a major tournament. I have to disagree. Denmark and Greece have both won major tournaments, whilst Leicester City stormed their way to the Premier League title. With belief, a little bit of luck and tactics to suit the players you have at your disposal, the sky is the limit.
Former Chairboy, Keith Scott, who was plucked from the depths of non-league by O’Neill before going onto play in the top flight agrees: “The gaffer had the ability to make individuals and the team believe that the impossible was possible.”
Gareth Southgate has the impossible job. He seems like a nice guy and had a fine and distinguished playing career, but since hanging up his boots, Southgate’s record as a manager has been underwhelming. I truly hope he can prove the doubters wrong and lead England to the latter stages of the World Cup in Russia.
Meanwhile, Ireland will have a tricky play off to contend with before booking any flights, but no one will fancy playing them. As Martin O’Neill said this week: “I have always feared teams, it’s the best way to be. And then we go out and beat them.”
Mine’s a Guinness.