You’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

IF only Brendan Rodgers felt that way. Instead the great managerial hope of Irish football is isolated. With a bruised reputation, and no trophies from his four years at Anfield, he stands at a career crossroads.

If Liverpool let him go he has no other option, but to make his next job a success. Otherwise, he’ll be heading down the road David O’Leary was forced to take post Aston Villa, searching for media work, or worse, for coaching jobs in the Middle East.

That’s modern football for you where a managerial star can fall quicker than rise. Remember George Graham and how quickly his name was wiped off the map? Paul Jewell was once the coming man. Now he’s nowhere, the same place as Harry Redknapp, so nearly the England manager four years ago.

So Rodgers is in a difficult place. So is Irish football. This sport is as vulnerable to trends as the fashion industry – witness how Andreas Villas Boas has picked up work on the back of sharing the same nationality, not a comparable level of talent, as Jose Mourinho.

Had Rodgers nailed the Anfield job then who knows what would have followed? Would Michael O’Neill, of similar age and background, been picked up by an aspiring chairman who wanted to be the one who identified the next big thing?

O’Neill, who cut his managerial teeth with Shamrock Rovers, could yet prove a pathfinder for talented young Irish managers – Stephen Kenny, Trevor Croly, Pat Fenlon – so long as he gets a break.

Getting one will now be considerably harder now, though. Had Rodgers proved to be an outstanding success then recruiting chairmen would have opted to make a copy-cat appointment. “I told Brendan, we need you to be a success,” said Sean Dyche a year ago. “Otherwise what chance have young English managers like me?”

More to the point, what chances have young Irish managers like O’Neill, Fenlon, Kenny or Croly?

All of this matters because of what happened last weekend when Hull joined QPR and Burnley in the Championship, removing at a stroke, four Irish internationals from Premier League activity.

History has shown – especially in Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane’s case – that managers stick to what they know. Both men have shopped repeatedly for Irish players during their tenures at Sunderland and Ipswich, and while Rodgers has never followed their practice, the point is that any new Brendan Rodgers’ could have.

Instead, we are set to be left without an Irish managerial presence in next season’s Premier League and minus six regular starters – Richard Dunne, Stephen Ward, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler, Paul McShane, and Robbie Brady.

Their next home will be the Championship, a bang-it-as-far-as-you-can league which bears no resemblance to the subtler demands of international football.

In this context, the international side will suffer. Rather than see his key players operating at the highest level possible, Martin O’Neill instead will be setting off for Rotherham, Huddersfield, and Milton Keynes.

If this makes for grim reading, then consider this stat. Not one Irish-born player aged under 23 will be playing in next year’s Premier League. It’s just as well the ‘granny rule’ exists. Otherwise our national team may not.