Tac­tics divided opin­ions but he trans­formed Ir­ish ex­pec­ta­tions

Forth­right Charl­ton never wa­vered in his con­vic­tions about just how the game should be played

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer Death Of Jack Charlton -

Jack Charl­ton shakes Liam Brady’s hand as the player leaves the pitch on the oc­ca­sion of his tes­ti­mo­nial for the Repub­lic of Ire­land against Fin­land in May 1990. Charl­ton had de­cided to dis­pense with the gifted mid­fielder’s ser­vices by Septem­ber 1989. Inset: with his cap­tain Mick Mc­Carthy at Italia 90.

There will al­ways be plenty to ar­gue about with re­gard to Jack Charl­ton’s time in charge of the Repub­lic of Ire­land but it seems be­yond dis­pute that he trans­formed the level of ex­pec­ta­tion around the Ir­ish team.

Guid­ing Ire­land to three ma­jor cham­pi­onships in his first four at­tempts seems an as­ton­ish­ing achieve­ment even now. His crit­ics may con­tinue to con­tend that the play­ers were there to do it all an­other way but few were all that fussy as Eoin Hand de­parted in the wake of a 4-1 de­feat at home by Den­mark that made it just one win in 11 for his side.

If foot­ball man­agers, like gen­er­als, need to be lucky then Hand might not have been the man for the job. He and the team caught some very bad breaks at key mo­ments of his reign but there was a sense too to­wards the end that his in­creas­ingly weak po­si­tion was made worse by the frus­tra­tion some of his play­ers felt at not be­ing part of some­thing bet­ter.

Early ev­i­dence that Charl­ton might en­joy the rub of the green was pro­vided by the man­ner in which he came through an FAI se­lec­tion process that had more than a touch of farce about it. That he was not a clear choice was no great sur­prise for his cre­den­tials at that point were less than com­pelling re­ally.

A one-club man as a player, he had had a great ca­reer with Leeds United and Eng­land, en­joy­ing mem­o­rable suc­cesses un­der Don Re­vie and Alf Ram­sey.

But af­ter ini­tially hav­ing done well in man­age­ment him­self with Mid­dles­brough, his achieve­ments were de­cid­edly mod­est and it was far from clear what op­por­tu­ni­ties might present them­selves af­ter he re­signed the New­cas­tle job on the eve of the 1985/86 sea­son.

His faith in him­self and his game plan re­mained ut­terly undimmed, though. He ar­rived into the job with a very strong sense of how he was go­ing to change things and what that would in­volve de­mand­ing from his play­ers.

“He made it very clear that first time on the train­ing ground,” then Sham­rock Rovers mid­fielder Pat Byrne would later re­call, “that ‘we are not go­ing to have any nice stuff here.

“It’s go­ing to be very straight; we’re go­ing to play it this way: we’re go­ing to get the ball, we’re go­ing to put it over the full-backs’ head and we’re go­ing to have run­ners in be­hind. We’re go­ing to close every­thing up and we’re go­ing to turn the whole back­line; as soon as they’re turned, we’re on our way.’”

Ir­re­sistible force

There were, as has been widely sug­gested, el­e­ments of the press­ing game much more re­cently favoured by some of foot­ball’s most pro­gres­sive coaches but it was rather more ba­sic in sev­eral re­spects.

It was cer­tainly not pretty but it could be ex­cit­ing at times and on the bet­ter days it seemed to make an of­ten un­der­achiev­ing Ire­land side feel like some sort of strange ir­re­sistible force.

His open­ing game, a friendly against Wales at Lans­downe Road was lost, but it would be six and a half years – Spain in Oc­to­ber 1993 – be­fore his side was beaten there in a com­pet­i­tive match. In the in­ter­ven­ing time, there had been 11 com­pet­i­tive wins and five draws. What was, by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, a ram­shackle ground in­tended first and fore­most for rugby took on that ‘fortress’ sta­tus that ev­ery team talks about achiev­ing for their home but few do.

The team’s record there was to be the back­bone of his suc­cess with Ire­land. A string of lengthy un­beaten runs were con­structed around their ap­par­ent in­vin­ci­bil­ity on home turf; 12 games, then 17, then 11 and 11. Sev­eral only ended at ma­jor cham­pi­onships where there was no shame what­so­ever in that Ire­land team be­ing beaten by some very good op­po­nents.

Though some cer­tainly tried, es­pe­cially later on when the ini­tial shock of it had sub­sided, the suc­cess was tremen­dously hard to ar­gue with. Sure, you could make the case that with the play­ers Ire­land had at that time, a good deal might have been achieved play­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated brand of foot­ball. But from Charl­ton’s side, reach­ing the quar­ter-fi­nals of the World Cup in Italy was quite some come­back even if there was a great deal to crit­i­cise about the per­for­mances there.

Ob­vi­ous cause

And while the fun­da­men­tals of the foot­ball plan were cer­tainly ba­sic, they were well worked and did gen­er­ally pro­duce a few goals, at least in qual­i­fy­ing.

When it came to Euro ’92, Ire­land missed out on mak­ing it to the fi­nals by just a point af­ter a cam­paign in which the team had drawn all four of its games against its chief qual­i­fi­ca­tion ri­vals. Let­ting a 3-1 lead in Poland slip was the most ob­vi­ous cause of the fail­ure but even a 1-0 win in the home game would put them through with twice as many goals scored as an Eng­land side that in­cluded Gary Lineker. Two years later, they qual­i­fied for USA ’94 be­hind Spain hav­ing scored four times more than third -placed side Den­mark.

There were frus­tra­tions along the way for sure but Charl­ton’s self-be­lief only in­creased and the play­ers quickly be­gan to buy into his vi­sion of what Ire­land could achieve if they pulled to­gether.

The play­ers, for the most part, laughed at his foibles but gen­er­ally ac­cepted they were col­lec­tively on to some­thing and rev­elled in the suc­cess.

He had some very good ones to choose from but the fun­da­men­tals of the plan was, in his eyes, much big­ger than any of them and that meant there would in­evitably be vic­tims, with Liam Brady likely from an early stage to top the list.

Brady was clearly not the player he had been in Septem­ber 1989 but it is still hard to imag­ine that any Ir­ish man­ager of the team could have ditched the coun­try’s most tal­ented foot­baller at that par­tic­u­lar point in time. Charl­ton, though, felt it needed to be done.

There re­ally is no ex­cus­ing the way he did it, how­ever, hu­mil­i­at­ing the mid­fielder so as to make his point by sub­sti­tut­ing him 35 min­utes into a friendly with West Ger­many and then claim­ing he should have done it af­ter 15.

The man­ner of it was, how­ever, seen as a firm state­ment of his au­thor­ity and warn­ing to oth­ers and the team marched on.

Though they had gone out in the group stage, the team never quite, in many ways, matched the achieve­ment of the per­for­mance Ger­many in 1988, the coun­try’s joy­ous first ever ap­pear­ance at a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Home de­feat

There was huge pride taken in the win over Eng­land and the na­ture of the dis­plays against the Soviet Union and the Nether­lands, in part be­cause of the sur­prise the team had gen­er­ated abroad. By the time Italia’90 came around the Ir­ish peo­ple were ready for the party but there were plenty of high­lights with some out­stand­ing re­sults and no end of sto­ries.

By the qual­i­fy­ing stages of Euro ’96, the cracks were ob­vi­ous, though, and the sec­ond com­pet­i­tive home de­feat of his reign, against Aus­tria, con­firmed the grow­ing sense that the team was run­ning out of steam and so his time was run­ning out.

The man­ner of the de­feats at the end of that cam­paign, though, first in Por­tu­gal in Novem­ber then the fol­low­ing month to the Dutch at An­field, made his Ire­land side look sud­denly hope­lessly anachro­nis­tic.

Two more tac­ti­cally de­vel­oped teams that cap­i­talised on the abil­i­ties of tech­ni­cally gifted play­ers looked en­tirely un­trou­bled by Ire­land’s ap­proach.

The pity of it was that he did not see or pub­licly recog­nise that he had stayed too long or that those in charge sim­ply had to move on. The level of ex­pec­ta­tion faced by the man­agers who were to suc­ceed him, though, would never be the same. The Ir­ish pub­lic were now primed to the be­lief that their foot­ball team was en­ti­tled to a place at the game’s top ta­ble even if the rest of the world of­ten won­dered why.

It was cer­tainly not pretty but it could be ex­cit­ing and on the bet­ter days it seemed to make an of­ten un­der­achievi ng Ire­land side feel like some sort of strange ir­re­sistible force

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