ANALYSIS: Kenny must compromise his principles to survive

Alan O’Brien 

When Giovanni Trapattoni first assumed the Republic of Ireland reins in 2008, much was made of the Italian’s legendary focus on football’s “little details”, manna from heaven for an Irish faithful weary of Steve Staunton’s rank amateurism. Not even the simple act of defending a throw-in, allegedly practised ad nauseum in pre-match training sessions, escaped Trapattoni’s obsessive eye. The message was simple: there is no grand ideology; ultra-pragmatism and attention to detail will win the day.

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ANALYSIS: Kenny’s vision of McCarthy is a mirage

Alan O’Brien 

Not being all-in on Stephen Kenny can be seen as a kind of heresy around these parts. The new Republic of Ireland manager’s unashamed idealism and refreshing candour have won over almost the entire Irish football community, with the possible exception of a smattering of skeptical ex-pros, whose company I’m not particularly thrilled to keep. But this writer has long met many of Kenny’s public pronouncements with an uneasy mixture of bemusement and concern. And none had me scratching my head more vigourously than Kenny’s eye-opening comments about James McCarthy earlier in the week. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pep’s Dutch disciple stymies Spurs

Alan O’Brien 

Accounting for one Pep Guardiola side is a tall order; overcoming two on the trot, however, unsurprisingly looks beyond Mauricio Pochettino’s spent Spurs. Continue reading

OPINION: Delaney is just the tip of the iceberg

Alan O’Brien 

Just under two years have passed since the night I reluctantly resolved to stop covering grassroots football. Hours removed from a skirmish with two officers of the Limerick District League Committee, the oft-repeated advice of a friend echoed insistently around my head: “no one cares”. I had railed against that suggestion for months, certain that my dripfeed of exposés about endemic LDLC misconduct would eventually inspire the Limerick football public into action. But the events of May 21, 2017 finally – belatedly – convinced me otherwise. My friend was right: fighting the good fight alone was futile, and it was time to walk away. And, at the end of the 2016/17 season, that’s exactly what I did.

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ANALYSIS: Back-three must go to end Emery road woes

Alan O’Brien 

With six Premier League games remaining, Arsenal have already matched last season’s 63-point tally. Notwithstanding some early teething problems, few would dispute that Unai Emery has quickly swept up the mess left by his predecessor, Arsene Wenger. The Gunners’ longstanding problem with travel sickness, however, is proving more difficult to remedy. Arsenal possess only the 10th-best away record in this league. And Emery has only his own tactical uncertainty to blame. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Improving Ireland clear low O’Neill bar

Alan O’Brien 

Twitter wasn’t around when last Mick McCarthy masterminded a 1-0 victory at Lansdowne Road. Yet, in a measure of how low Martin O’Neill has set the bar for his successor, we now have a good idea what the ensuing social media scenes might have looked like. Georgia are no Netherlands; Vladimir Weiss’ improving side are ranked a lowly 91st in the world. But, after watching the boys from the Black Sea comprehensively outplay our lads twice in the last three years, splitting the possession pie equally feels like major progress. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Hendrick rocks Gibraltar to spare McCarthy’s blushes

Alan O’Brien 

Mick McCarthy’s second stint under FAI employ is already pre-destined to be a temporary little arrangement. But his honeymoon period, riven asunder by a grim afternoon in Gibraltar, takes the brevity biscuit. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Tielemans tantalises as Leicester’s rotten luck endures

Alan O’Brien 

One point from three successive bouts with so-called ‘Big Six’ sides may not meet Leicester City fans’ exacting standards. But such a paltry return could hardly be seen as abnormal in a league where the gap between the high-flying haves and the mid-table have-nots appears wider than ever before. And yet, look closer at the performances Claude Puel coaxed from his players throughout that trio of tough encounters, and one comes to a surprising conclusion: Leicester could, and perhaps should, have won all three. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Emery diamond stops Sarrismo at source

Alan O’Brien 

Following last weekend’s chastening defeat to West Ham United, Unai Emery’s Arsenal project looked in danger of falling asunder. With that said, the visit of Chelsea, who easily sidestepped the Spaniard’s high-press back in August, looked incredibly ill-timed. Jorginho, Maurizio Sarri’s tempo-dictating pivot, was key to his side’s success on that occasion. But the famously passive Mesut Ozil was the regista’s direct opponent then; Aaron Ramsey, fielded here in Jorginho’s face at the tip of an Arsenal diamond, proved nowhere near as forgiving. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pellegrini’s big team mentality trumps unpenetrative Arsenal

Alan O’Brien 

If anything, Declan Rice may be too mature for Manuel Pellegrini’s own good. The teenager’s all-seeing performances in holding midfield may have convinced his manager it was safe to revert to 4-4-2 back in November. One central midfielder was therefore dumped, as the 4-3-3 that plugged West Ham United’s yawning early-season gaps fell by the wayside. Fortunate victories over Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Fulham masked the lack of balance this switch engendered. A subsequent festive period run of one win in four, therefore, came as little surprise to more keen-eyed observers. Continue reading