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Why the expectations of the Republic of Ireland national team need to be revised

The Boot Room

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Expectations are cruel.

They’re met with no batting of eyelids, but leave a wake of disappointment when they’re not reached.

In the realm of international football, the Republic of Ireland’s expectations have been caught up in delusional grandeur for far too long, leading to perpetual heartache.

It’s been twenty years since the heady days under Jack Charlton tutelage ended, and the expectations which his management brought have not ceased. Before his tenure began, Ireland had never qualified for a major international tournament. Upon his departure, he left a country with desires for competing in every tournament, not merely qualifying.

Of the nine major competitions since Charlton’s last match in a Euro 1996 play-off against the Netherlands, Ireland have only qualified for two. The last of these two campaigns was the ill-fated 2012 European Championships, a tournament which showcased just how far the gulf is between Ireland and Europe’s elite.

The Euro 2016 qualifying campaign has seen the biggest challenge to the Republic’s grandiose designs on international football.

Whereas previous qualifying campaigns and tournaments have seen Ireland’s shortcomings against major nations, this campaign has seen these shortcomings come to the surface against similar nations.

Before Group D got underway, it was expected that Germany would walk away in first place with machine-like efficiency, and that the remaining two places would be filled by one of Poland, Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.

It’s looking increasingly likely that Ireland will fall short in their attempts to qualify, despite rallying efforts in the final minutes to achieve results against Germany, Georgia and Poland.

Ireland have always used their tenacity and work ethic to achieve results against bigger teams. However, when managed by Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, or even Giovanni Trappatoni, these spirited performances were combined with a tactical aptitude.

In the two matches against their biggest group rivals, Ireland’s tactical makeup left a lot to be desired. The matches against Scotland and Poland both saw a first half which left Ireland floundering and feckless. Despite improved second half performances, Martin O’Neill’s charges found themselves aimless in their play, bar the performance of James McClean against Poland. His play gave Ireland’s attacking an impetus which it so sorely missed, eventually leading to Shane Long’s last minute equaliser.

Perhaps another reason why Ireland’s expectations need to be managed is due to the players that are available in the national pool.

Despite being Ireland’s catalyst against Poland, James McClean is plying his trade at lowly Wigan Athletic. The Irish team that night was chockfull of Championship footballers, with pundits waxing lyrically about Norwich City’s 32-year-old midfielder Wes Hoolahan. A team with designs on perennially qualifying for tournaments must have more about them than Championship players.

Considering Scotland’s squad contains experienced Premier League players like Darren Fletcher, coupled with raw Premier League starlets such as Hull City’s Andrew Robertson. Even the inclusion of Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie and Watford’s Ikechi Anya, elite Championship players with Premier League aspirations, it’s no wonder that they’re ahead of Ireland in Group D.

Poland’s team against Ireland was a predominantly second-string side, missing key players like Borussia Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek, Bayer Leverkusen’s Sebastian Boenisch, and Hoffenheim’s Eugen Polanski. Ireland simply doesn’t have an abundance of these players.

Old arguments surrounding the strength of the League of Ireland and sub-par schoolboy structures only lead to an environment where it is virtually impossible to achieve results internationally.

Despite the decline of Scottish domestic football, they’ve still managed to produce precocious young talents such as Andrew Robertson, Ryan Gauld, and Lewis MacLeod. This is due to the infrastructure put in place at all major Scottish football clubs, as well as the coaching these young players receive. This is also the case in Poland, and results will only improve in the wake of the structures put in place as co-hosts of Euro 2012.

Football clubs in Ireland face a meagre struggle to survive, so money accumulated is almost solely spent on running the club, rather than building solid foundations for growth. This leads to most clubs not even having schoolboy and youth teams. Young players must ply their trade at the major schoolboy clubs dotted around the country, where the coaching is good and winning is the mantra. Players, if they’ve got the requisite potential, are then thrown into the English academy structure en masse to finish their footballing education and earn their club some money.

These structures are not designed to educate and produce footballers – but merely to exploit young men.

Before the Football Association of Ireland and football fans throughout Ireland believe that the World Cup in Russia is a realistic goal, they must change the football culture which is embedded in the soil of the country. They must seek change, and only then will Ireland’s international future run smoothly alongside current expectations.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

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Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente would be the perfect addition for Crystal Palace

The Spaniard still has plenty to offer in the Premier League.

Josh Kerr

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Fernando Llorente
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur striker Fernando Llorente is among five players expected to leave the Lilywhites this summer as manager Mauricio Pochettino prepares for a summer clear out.

According to The Mirror, Pochettino is ready to listen to offers for the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko.

The 33-year-old has undoubtedly struggled in his time since joining Spurs from Swansea City in 2017. The former Spain international has scored just one Premier League goal and five in 31 appearances, in all competitions, following the move.

Elsewhere in London, the incredible resurgence of Crystal Palace has been orchestrated by the outstanding Roy Hodgson, who has earned plaudits from all corners as his Eagles side finished the season sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table.

The former England manager was able to guide the London outfit to safety, despite the team sitting bottom of the league without a win and even a goal after seven games. Avoiding the drop was also achieved without the support of misfiring striker Christian Benteke.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Belgian’s miserable form could leave Hodgson searching for further attacking options in the summer and Llorente would prove the perfect addition at Selhurst Park.

The Spaniard was monumental in his first season in England for Welsh outfit Swansea, firing 15 league goals during his short spell in South Wales.

It could be a real coup for Palace if they play to Llorente’s strengths, and he could be the signing that gets the best out of Benteke, knowing there’s a direct replacement for him if he isn’t meeting the required standards.

The former Sevilla striker was limited to few opportunities under Pochettino, starting just one league game for Spurs. His next move must prioritise finding a manager who believes in his ability and suits the striker’s style of play.

Llorente’s prowess in the air is difficult to match and with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend supplying the Spanish forward he could be a real goal threat next season.

At the age of 33, Palace would not have to break the bank to add an established attacking option. For a potential small fee, Hodgson should undoubtedly swoop.

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Eight appearances, zero goals: What’s next for failed Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin N’Koudou?

The 23-year-old has struggled since his move to the Premier League.

Max Cohen

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Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
Photo: Getty Images

When Tottenham Hotspur winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou signed for Burnley on loan in January, there were high hopes that the 23-year-old attacker could finally prove his worth in English football.

However, N’Koudou has tremendously struggled for both playing time and form during his brief time at Turf Moor, and it appears there is no future at White Hart Lane for the Frenchman.

The winger has made just eight appearances for the Clarets and has registered a grand total of zero goals and zero assists.

Frustratingly, Sean Dyche has selected Georges-Kevin N’Koudou in the starting eleven only twice during his loan spell.

The disappointing reality that most of his appearances have come as a substitute is a major factor behind the winger’s ineffectiveness, as it is exceedingly difficult to make an impact on loan when starts are hard to come by.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Things were beginning to look up for N’Koudou in late March and early April when he made consecutive starts against West Bromwich Albion and Watford.

Both matches ended in victory for Burnley, and the winger caught the eye with lively performances full of direct running and pace.

However, when Johann Berg Gudmundsson returned from injury, N’Koudou found himself dropped out of the matchday squad entirely for three matches straight, encapsulating his inconsistent season.

Although the Spurs loanee has returned to make two substitute appearances in Burnley’s recent matches against Brighton and Arsenal, his months at Turf Moor have overall been a frustrating failure.

Signed by Mauricio Pochettino in August 2016 amid much fanfare for £9.4 million pounds, the winger penned a five-year deal in anticipation of a fruitful Tottenham career.

Just under two years later, the challenge of adapting to England seems to have proved too fearsome for the young N’Koudou.

With no future at White Hart Lane next season, a transfer back to his native France might provide the best move for the promising yet ineffective Georges-Kevin N’Koudou.

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West Ham’s decade-long lack of goal scorers summed up by startling figure

Max Cohen

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Photo: Getty Images

During West Ham United’s scoreless draw with Manchester United on Thursday, commentator Peter Drury made an acute observation that revealed the Hammers’ dreadful decade-long goalscoring record.

According to Drury, the last time a West Ham striker scored more than ten goals in a Premier League season was back in the 2006/07 campaign.

That year it was twice-capped England international Bobby Zamora who achieved the feat, bagging 11 goals as the east London club finished 15th.

Yet in West Ham’s ten top-flight seasons that have followed, no Hammers striker has hit the vaunted 11-goal mark, a striking statistic that is a damning indictment of the club’s poor recruitment.

A Guardian investigation conducted in January 2017 found that West Ham had signed an incredible 32 strikers in the seven seasons since David Gold and David Sullivan bought the club.

This list includes massive flops such as Benni McCarthy, Mido, Marouane Chamakh, Mladen Petric, Simone Zaza, and Jonathan Calleri. Shockingly, all of these strikers scored a combined one goal for West Ham.

This season, Marko Arnautovic is on the brink of finally breaking the decade-long duck. The Serbian sits on ten league goals to date, and will have one final opportunity to end the drought against Everton on Sunday.

The fact that it has taken this long to come close to bringing an end to the embarrassing spell is simply unacceptable for a club of West Ham’s stature. The lack of goalscoring strikers is a massive worry for the Hammers that has held them back during their disappointing 2017/18 campaign.

West Ham have scored just 45 goals in 37 matches, an abysmal goal-to-match ratio that has resulted in a poor goal difference of negative 22.

If Arnautovic is to hit 11 league goals for the Hammers this season, then West Ham can finally put a decade of striking embarrassment behind them.

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