Stephen Kenny in trouble? Phil Babb unsure if current manager is right man to lead Republic of Ireland forward

Former Republic of Ireland defender Phil Babb has questioned whether Stephen Kenny is the right man to lead the national team forward.

Speaking on Sky Sports in the aftermath of the shock 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Luxembourg, Babb expressed his concerns that Kenny’s style of play is not having its desired effect.

“That’s a very difficult question,” he answered, when asked if Kenny is the right man to lead Ireland forward.

“The only saving grace I feel for Stephen Kenny is it’s six months until the next game.

“I’m not so sure if he is, and I’m not trying to get anyone the sack or anything like that. But I’m just trying to look for the positives.

“A lot of journalists in Ireland are saying ‘these are growing pains, we have to just feel the pain for a certain period and then we’ll grow out of them’. I’m not so sure.

“He’s tried to change the formation, but he’s still not getting the best out of players that are used to that formation. Yes, he’s had injuries, there are some key players missing. Mostly defenders.

“But the defensive problems aren’t the big problem, for me. It’s creating chances.”

Babb is worried about the Republic of Ireland’s lack of cutting edge.

“They are trying to adapt this new style of play. We saw why (Mark) Travers probably didn’t play [against Luxembourg], because he’s not comfortable on the ball with his distribution,” he explained.

“But against Serbia, he was going long. And to a certain extent, we got some joy turning them, going down the channels. And it’s a very old-fashioned style of play, but it has worked for us.

“It’s alright keeping possession, playing the ball across the back, recycling it. And it looks nice and your possession stats go up. But you’re not hurting teams. You’re not penetrating. You’re not playing through the thirds. And that’s the issue.

“I don’t think the style of controlled, possession football is working with this group of players.”


Highlights of Republic of Ireland against Luxembourg from FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group A

‘An embarrassment’

As the Republic of Ireland look to pick up the pieces with their World Cup qualification hopes in the balance, Babb could not hide his disappointment.

“I’m in shock, to be honest,” he said. “I thought they had all the tools in the box to get a win, and to be unstuck by the 98th-ranked team in the world is an embarrassment.

“They seemed to be devoid of ideas from the start of the game. It’s a very sad day.

“It feels raw but the more you look at it, it’s not unexpected.

“The team has been struggling. Yes, we’re trying to create a new style of play for Irish football, and there’s glimpses of it when it’s nice and they’re playing through the thirds.

“But when they get into that final third, there’s no creative spark whatsoever and that worries me. We couldn’t repeat the good patterns of play. We had one or two attempts and the rest were half chances, which just isn’t good enough against that type of opposition.

“There has to be an inquisition, to be honest. I was never happy with the way Stephen Kenny’s appointment was announced. Mick McCarthy had a European Championship qualifying campaign to go through and yet his successor was already known for in two years’ time. That didn’t sit well with me. There’s been this outcry to be fashionable and for the side to play free-flowing football, but you need the players who are confident to do that.

“We’ve seen Ireland try it, and it’s just not working. We don’t have the players to drop deep, on the turn, to try the killer passes. The confidence is just ebbing away from them. The players seemed anxious. I would say to a certain point yes [you write off Qatar 2022]. It’s going to be extremely difficult now to qualify. I think now you’ve got to look as far ahead as 2024.”

The result leaves Ireland with a mountain to climb in Group A
The result leaves Ireland with a mountain to climb in Group A

Kenny: It’s not good enough

Speaking to Sky Sports at full-time, Kenny did not shy away from criticism.

“I’m not shocked, but I’m very disappointed. It’s not acceptable to lose in the manner that we did,” he admitted.

“After playing so well against Serbia, we come here at home, and it’s a game we’re well capable of winning so it’s very disappointing.

“We know that Luxembourg are vastly improved. We’d seen their games against Ukraine and Serbia and they pushed both teams very closely. So we didn’t underestimate Luxembourg.

“Anything I say would be deemed as an excuse. We have a lot of players not playing. A second game in three days was just too much for them in terms of fitness-wise for a few. We made some changes, but it’s just not good enough from our point of view, from my point of view as a manager, and the players. We can’t be happy with it. It’s very disappointing to lose at home, and we just have to dust ourselves down. It’s not good enough.

“Certainly Luxembourg contained a lot of what we did. But we had four or five good chances and we showed a lack of composure in our finishing. But we should be creating more chances than we did to be honest.”

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Kenny gives his reaction to Sky Sports following the defeat to Luxembourg

However, he is reluctant to throw in the towel on Ireland’s World Cup hopes just yet.

“It’s a long way to go yet. It’s only the second game. And there’s a lot of football still to be played,” he said.

“It’s a setback. It’s a bad night. We have to deal with it and move on. That’s all we can do.

“But it’s a bad result for us. We can’t get away from that.

“I’m very, very disappointed with tonight. That’s a game that we should be winning. We have to accept the criticism that comes our way.”

Coleman: ‘A horrible night’

The Republic of Ireland captain echoed his manager’s sentiment.

“It’s a horrible night, an embarrassing night as international footballers. We didn’t deserve anything from the game, so I think that says it all,” he sighed.

“It looked like we didn’t have belief in ourselves. I thought against Serbia, we did well at times, but tonight I don’t think as individuals we demanded the ball enough and looked to break them down as quickly as we could, and I think we got what we deserved, which was nothing.

“It’s a very embarrassing night for us as international players.”

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