The Republic of Ireland football team have slowly but surely regressed over the last decade, a lucky qualification for Euro 2012 had covered up many cracks in the system but two consecutive (potential) fourth place finishes in qualifying and currently sitting 52nd in the somewhat flawed FIFA rankings isn’t good reading for the Boys in Green. 

Youth system

The youth system in Ireland is non-existent, there doesn’t seem to be any plan by the FAI for the best young talent in the country to develop their skills, instead these young players must go to England or Scotland to ply their trade. In Ireland the youth system is all about winning, not developing players for the future, so instead of the small skilful players getting a chance to grow, the bigger and stronger players at the time get to play, hence the lack of creativity in the current senior side. Instead of implementing a system like in Belgium or Germany the FAI relies on players from England and Scotland who have Irish parents or grandparents, the likes of James McCarthy, Aiden McGeady and Ciaran Clark are examples of this. You can see that there is a clear style of play being taught from the very bottom of the football chain through to the senior teams in Belgium and Germany, there is no such thing in Ireland. Kids play for one team that plays one way then move to a different side who plays a complete different system and its disrupting their growth as footballers.

Inability to win big games

Since Ireland beat Holland in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup they have won just won game against a nation ranked higher than themselves, Slovakia in 2007. It seems like a problem in mentality at this stage, its almost as if they go out believing they have lost before a ball is even kicked. Time after time they slip up when the opposition is there for the taking, one game in particular which hurt was in 2013 when Austria came to Dublin. Martin Harnik put the away side in front early on but Ireland came back and headed in at the break with a 2-1 lead. The Austrian side didn’t even look like they wanted to be there but slowly and surely Ireland retreated into their own half and were clinging onto the lead until the 93rd minute when David Alaba equalised, it was heart-breaking and really demonstrated the incompetence of the side when it comes to holding onto a lead. This has happened time and time again, as recent as the Scotland game last month. 

Neglecting the League of Ireland

The League seems like a burden on the FAI, they invest very little money into it and have run it into the ground over the last number of years. The CEO of the FAI, John Delaney, receives a reported 360k a year in wages whereas the winners of the League only receive 100k. I think this is a disgrace and in my opinion John Delaney is completely holding back the development of football in Ireland. In 2011 Shamrock Rovers, league champions at the time, made the group stages of the Europa League, a major breakthrough for the league but instead of the FAI investing into the league in an attempt for this to become a more regular occurrence they have allowed it to be a one off deal. Another problem related to the league is that the national team managers have refused to reward in form players with a call-up. Despite all the meaningless friendlies and qualifiers against very poor opposition, just three home-based players have earned international caps since 1986. Richie Towell of Dundalk FC is in fantastic form this season and has proved his quality in the league since joining from Celtic in December 2012, there is no reason why he couldn’t be called up to play against Gibraltar in September. This, however, is very unlikely considering the stubbornness of the managerial teams over the last number of years to call up these players. 

I believe that the youth system and the League of Ireland have a massive link and that one cannot succeed without the other. Wales have two huge clubs in England in Swansea City and Cardiff City and you can see that the international side is reaping the rewards of the rise of these two sides, Scotland have a decent league and have many home-based players in their senior squads on a regular basis and you can see that is why they are beginning to overtake Ireland in football terms. Northern Ireland are blessed with a very good manager in my opinion and have also been lucky in regards to the draw for the euro 2016 qualifiers and that’s why they’re currently flying high, despite also having a poor domestic league.