Tough times ahead for Kenny and Ten Hag as they try to salvage campaigns

by Gazette Reporter
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My two favourite soccer teams – The Republic of Ireland and Manchestser United – are finding life pretty rough these days with a growing feeling that it will be later rather than sooner before they iron out their problems.

Take the national team first – second last in their group following successive losses to France away and Holland at home. I hear the clamour for Stephen Kenny’s head is growing by the day but quite honestly, I feel very sorry for him.

After Martin O’Neill was dispensed with and Mick McCarthy did a second short stint, the former Dundalk manager came in promising to play an open brand of football. He has been true to his word and there is no doubt that his Ireland team try to play a much less cautious game than the ones from Trapattoni’s, O’Neill’s and even McCarthy’s times at the helm.

Unfortunately for him, he is in charge at a time when we no longer have players of the calibre of Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, Damien Duff or Robbie Keane to call on. Indeed his best players in terms of Premiership performers, Evan Ferguson and skipper Seamuc Coleman, have been unavailable to him this term when I think their presence may not have changed the result in Paris but possibly could have done so against Ronald Koeman’s side in the Aviva Stadium last Sunday.

I was surprised to hear O’Neill complain that the Irish media was keeping Kenny in situ when both newspapers and television pundits appear to be calling for his head for some time now. That’s all well and good but who is going to replace him? And where is that person going to find a magic wand to change Championship standard players and lower in performers who can go toe to toe with Champions League players?

10 September 2023; Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the UEFA EURO 2024 Championship qualifying group B match between Republic of Ireland and Netherlands at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Kenny has been incredibly brave in blooding around two dozen young players over the past two campaigns. His players clearly are fully behind him and have improved as they have acclimatised to the rarefied atmosphere of top class international football, but they are still not there yet to be able to compete over the full 90 minutes plus added time.

They now have an outside chance of qualifying for the upcoming Europeans via the Nations League format but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one either.

The FAI has a big consideration on where the future lies and as history has shown us, they don’t always get it right. As I write, the likelihood is that with three games remaining, Stephen may stay in charge and depending where those results go, he will then be either retained or let go.

In the case of Manchester United, the problems Erik Ten Hag faces are altogether different at source but similar in the way they are affecting team performance. It is quite evident now for some time that the owners, the Glazer family, have little or no interest in the football side and want to milk the club for whatever money they can. Consequently, the investment in the team has been piecemeal and not professional. On top of all that United have been hit by off field controversies to Mason Greenwood, once a £100m footballer  and Antony, both of whom have or are accused of sexualexploitations of girlfriends. To compound matter,  Jadon Sancho, who cost £70m from Dortmund and who needed off field rehabilitation last season, has come out contradicting his manager, and claiming he is being made a scapegoat for poor performances by the team with two lucky wins and two deserved losses in their four Premier League games so far this campaign.

A loss at home to Brighton on Saturday and United can forget about challenging for the title and maybe even a top four place. The team has no playing identity and looks more like a squad of individuals rather than a group that have knitted well into a playing pattern set down by the manager.

Like Kenny I feel sorry too for Ten Hag, a tough manager who has been hamstrung by not having the resources thanks to the Glazers to buy the players he wants. Instead he is having to make do with loan signings, some of which don’t work like Wout Wegnorst last season and we will have to see how Moroccan international Amrabat does on his loan spell from Fiorentina.

I suppose the uncertainty of situations is what makes fans follow football so closely. I will be watching this space on both fronts pretty closely over the coming months when you can be sure there will be further twists and turns along the road.

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