Green Shoots (Or: Why I Think We Might Win The 2030 World Cup)


From top: Troy Parrott (second left), celebrates with, from left, Jason Knight, Cameron Ledwidge and Barry Coffey during the UEFA U17 Championship Finals group between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Republic of Ireland in Burton-upon-Trent, England last May; Luke Brennan

When I first saw Robbie Keane play football, I thought “I know a Robbie Keane when I see one, and that Robbie Keane, is a Robbie Keane”. The question on every football fan’s lips these days, is “Where will we find the next Robbie Keane?”.

The FAI now have one of the most useful tools available in unearthing another Robbie Keane. They have, Robbie Keane. The thinking is that it takes a Robbie Keane to catch a Robbie Keane.

As they revealed Keane to the press, they had only one question, but dared not ask it: as Robbie leant down to sign on the dotted line, winking at the cameras, humming “There’s only one Robbie Keane” to himself.

“Will you be ringing Declan Rice, Robbie?”

I will in me swiss, thought Robbie, humming quietly to himself. “Yeah”, he said, “Meself and Mick will get the boy sorted”, wondering why anyone with half a million followers on Instagram would ring anyone.

You see, we don’t need another Robbie Keane, nor do we need Declan Rice.

It doesn’t matter if you are making sausages or running the Irish football team, the recipe for success is a steady supply of good raw material.

When you get that part right, you don’t end up relying on one player being your only goal-every-second-game striker for 20 years. We were lucky to have him, but we’re even luckier to have moved on.

I haven’t watched Premiership football in 20 years. I still won’t watch it. Everything from the prawn sandwiches to the wall-to-wall betting slogans winds me up, never mind the harm it does the Irish game.

I was living and working in the UK when I turned my back on it. I was placing in the top 5 of a company-wide fantasy football competition and had a “moment of clarity”, thinking I’d be better off spending my time working out what makes the factories of the world work than wasting any intellectual real estate on the Premiership.

I’m slightly disgusted with myself for even writing about it in passing; but it’s a necessary part of the good news that I bring.

Ireland are on the up.

They have been steadily improving their underage performance, the U17s were ranked 24th in Europe back in 2015, they’ve moved to 12th this year (Irish players Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly winning the golden boot for most qualification goals in the 2017 and 2018 competitions along the way).

At very least, we’ve got a golden generation.

There are half a dozen Irish teenagers making the bench in the Premiership this season, one even got a goal (Michael Obafemi scored the first premiership goal of the season by an Irish forward, in December). There are as many Irish teenagers in the English second division making it onto the pitch.

But that is nothing compared to what they are doing in the second string and underage
teams. In English underage football, the Irish are providing 5% of the players, but 12% of the goals.

They are learning their craft, captaining their teams, scoring winning goals with a relish that implies a new confidence. Heroism is an art; leadership a learnt skill. The Irish captains of the future are lining out for their club’s FA Youth cup teams in far greater numbers.

Last week Southampton’s youth team was captained by Kameron Ledwidge, formally of St.Kevin’s boys, Dublin. They were beaten 2-1 by Watford, captained by scorer of both goals, Ryan Cassidy, another St. Kevin’s alumni.

In another fourth-round tie, Preston beat Norwich, captained by Adam O’Reilly, defeating his former Cork schoolboy team-mate (and Norwich leading underage goal-scorer) Adam Idah.

There are other young captains, such as Stoke City’s Nathan Collins and Bolton’s Luca Connell. There is Troy Parrot at Tottenham. James Jennings, Ethan Varian, Will Ferry and Jason Knight all average a goal every other game for their Premier league youth teams. Parrot averages a goal a game.

I saw Ryan Nolan from Limerick captaining Inter Milan’s U19 team. I saw Ryan Johansson come on for 20 minutes as centre forward for Bayern Munich’s U19 team against Barcelona U19. He was the best player on the pitch.

All these players should put in a good performance at this year’s U19 championship. The 2020 U19 championship is being held just up the road in Northern Ireland, we can expect a good result in what is almost a local tournament.

Ireland’s U21 team will be building towards the 2021 finals in Slovenia. The hope is that the 2023 finals, when this golden-age of Irish football comes good, will be an all-Ireland hosted event.

A good result in that, would mean an Irish team would qualify for the 2024 Olympics. Plenty of opportunity to practice heroics, make mistake, learn, grow, yielding a mature and practiced squad.

We should also ask another question. What if that is the new normal? What if the wealth, prosperity, new genetic input and solid sports management is giving that result as a constant?

What if we’ve got the product pipeline right? What if there is another generation to follow?

Truth is we would need it.

Again, It doesn’t matter if you are making sausages or building an international football team; you need a product pipeline. Unlike sausage recipes, players wear out. You need to have been producing consistently over time to have a shot.

Did someone say we have a chance at a World cup? The future is bright, but the future is ten years away. Roll on World Cup 2030.

Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer, entrepreneur and sports fan.

Top Pic: Malcolm Couzens/Sportsfile

17 thoughts on “Green Shoots (Or: Why I Think We Might Win The 2030 World Cup)

  1. Spaghetti Hoop

    There’s a World Cup this year that we are hot contenders for. What is this 2020 dreamy delusional drivel? Reads like a soccer player’s interview.

    1. Custo

      Real contenders for as a result of the total restructuring of the national game over 20 years ago which is only paying dividends now. It’s the same thing. And football success still brings the country together in a way that rugby success (as fantastic as it is) can still only dream of. There’ll be enough journalistic hyperbole written about rugby in the coming months, what’s wrong with writing about the potential future success in football?

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        Because we’re poo at it. We also pay enormous sums of money to soccer individuals to bring us out of this mire and it fails every time. The reason we want ‘potential future success’ is because it’s a money game. Soccer does not bring the country together – it continues to be contentious and violent north of the border. Sorry Custo old pal but you’re dreaming.

        1. Custo

          North of the border is a different country, so doesn’t really apply. Although the scenes from Belfast when Brady scored against Italy mirrored those all accross the Republic. However well the rugby team are doing, and despite the mythologising of every tackle by the rugby press, it at still doesn’t hold a candle to how the average person on the street reacts when the football team does well (comparatively speaking).

    2. Rebelbrowser

      The article isn’t about rugby. Its about footbal and its a very good article. Why would he talk about the Rugby world cup in an article about football?

      The RWC is what it is and Ireland will hopefully win it (mind you, having not previously gone past the last 8 in a sport played seriously by 9 countries – the same level as we reached in Italia 90 in a sport played seriously by 100+ countries) but it is being, and rightly will be, discussed lots elsewhere. Most articles about football in this country are tabloid trash re the English premier league so this well written article is breath of fresh air.

    3. harry

      Just imagine we could genetically enhance a stem cell from Robby Keane mix it with john Delaney and before you can shout seat sales in rio you have a team
      Well that’s as probable as Ireland winning the world cup anytime before the next bi centenary
      Lets just concentrate on sports we do well with like rugby Gaelic cricket rowing sailing and boxing

  2. Panty Christ

    How about we develop a structure that keeps young players here instead of priming them for failure in England.
    Every underage Irish player should have ambitions to get a college scholarship through sport and play for their school. Then a drafting system developed like nfl which would then place them in the league of Ireland. Create a market here and then English sides can pay a proper price for our home developed talent.

  3. Johnny Keenan

    Good man Luke. That’s a great analysis of the Irish football set up. For someone who has walked away from the humdrum of the whole football fanfare and hype 20 years ago it shows that your heart and pride is still with the boys in green. I salute your vision and share your passion.
    You have certainly done your homework here. I would certainly employ you as a scout if I was in FAI. ‘Our man in Lisbon’.
    You’ve laid out your stall very strategically with great knowledgeable of our up and coming talent.
    It was only a matter of time before the cohesiveness of our growing multicultural community formed a strong unity. This is the start of it. The players you’ve mentioned I am looking forward to checking out. To see young captains playing with solid English teams is extremely encouraging.
    You’ve hit the nail on the head by having a system in place progression is inevitable. Belgium proved this by having a system in place they are now arguably the best team in the world. It all started with a vision by Michel Selbon in 1998. He got a youth project implemented in 2001 and got the Belgium FA to cough up. The fruition took less than 10 years. Ok Belgium haven’t won anything at senior level. They light up the premiership each week though. De Bruyne the most exciting imo.
    The blue print is there for all the world to learn from.
    It’s essentially all about making the beautiful game more beautiful. Development is the key for young players. Through a system that incorporates education respect and a football philosophy. After that it’s who wants it most.
    If you look at Iceland in Euro’s 2016 with a population of just 300000, the same as Cork, like. Cork will now be starting with their break away Republic for the euros 2020. Or Croatia reaching the final of last years World Cup with a population of 4 million. Proving it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

    Ireland right now is very similar to where Belgium was 20 years ago. Belgium were a host country for 00 euros and Ireland are a host country for 2020 Euros. Selbon made sure that Belgium invested heavily into youth football with profits made from their championship.
    Republic Of Ireland already have the expertise of Dutch technical director Rudd Dokter who has been developing a plan underage for the past 6 years.

    Luke your observations and predictions are spot on. All we have to do now is make sure the money in FAI goes to where it is required and we will be well on the way to winning the World Cup in 2030. Who knows we could be hosting it. With the right attitude and inclusive dialogue we could have a united Irish football team by then to.
    Dare to dream Luke and feck the begrudges.

    Belgium Blue Print

    Just what the Dokter ordered
    1 vision, 1 goal, 1 team

    What might have been

    1. Boules

      Excellent Lads! (Johnny & Luke)
      Great outlook! Think Big!
      We’ve proven before that we can give anyone a game when we get it right, so it’s great to see this development that could make us competitive in major tournaments.

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