Having been once billed as the 'Dream Team', Davy Millar explains how Lawrie McMenemy and his backroom team's reign with Northern Ireland turned into a nightmare
And so another one bites the dust. Lawrie McMenemy is no longer the boss of Northern Ireland and his back-up team have gone with him. Joe Jordan, Pat Jennings and Under-21 manager Chris Nicholl are all looking for new jobs.
When Lawrie and Co were appointed, after a lengthy trawl through the dole offices of western Europe, they were billed as the Dream Team. It was a ludicrous bit of hype which soon became a millstone around their collective neck. As the team lurched from one inadequate display to the next, the press began to stick inverted commas around the words, then prefaced them with “so-called” before resorting to outright sarcasm.
They had been brought in to bring an end to the string of narrow defeats which had sent us tumbling down the world rankings, and nobody can argue that they didn’t fulfil their side of the bargain: close results are a thing of the past. Under these circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the IFA’s offer of a new contract should be met with a furious reaction by an outraged public. As a result the IFA felt obliged to reduce the deal to a 13-month period, causing McMenemy to reject the contract in favour of furthering his career in club football. God knows, he might even mean it.
He leaves behind a team low in confidence, even lower on scoring power and which can’t defend to save its life. In recent games they have performed like condemned men who know they are in for another tanking. But of course none of this is Lawrie’s fault. He prefers to harp on about our lack of resources – in fact he said little else during his reign – though he surely must have known about this before he took the job.
We have always lacked quality players and so it has been the manager’s task to inspire a merely adequate bunch into playing above themselves. Instead, Lawrie undermined morale by complaining about our poor defending, admitting that he couldn’t see how we were ever going to score and carrying out a very public search for imported talent before picking the exact same team for the next match. No matter how inspiring his team talks might have been, the players knew that he didn’t rate them and that he had no idea how to change things.
Whoever the new manager might be, he would do well to cut out the despair and desperation. Billy Bingham didn’t have a lot to work with in the early 1980s, but he organised that side with great success. As for the much-ridiculed Bryan Hamilton, at least he knew that moaning about his players was unlikely to improve matters, and his results don’t look so bad now.
Blaming the increased competitiveness of the European scene is equally futile. Yes, there are more countries than before and most have at least a nucleus of full-timers playing in a major foreign league, thus eroding the advantage Northern Ireland and Wales used to gain from being next door to England. But this didn’t stop teams like Iceland, Cyprus and Slovenia doing well in Euro 2000 qualifying.
It is surely not unrealistic to hope that the new boss can show some desire to meet the challenge rather than waving the white flag. It would also be nice if he could think up a Plan B for those games where Plan A isn’t working. And when faced with the occasional bout of indiscipline, he could try to work with the culprit to solve the problem rather than simply sending offenders into exile. In short, could we please have a manager this time?
From WSC 155 January 2000. What was happening this month