Who knows if the Republic of Ireland wanted Brian McDermott? All we do know is that John Delaney, the Football Association of Ireland’s chief executive, identified him as a candidate on Wednesday without being prompted.
Delaney was asked directly about Martin O’Neill, Mick McCarthy, Chris Hughton and Roy Keane. He threw in McDermott’s name himself. A Freudian slip or a man who’d been watching the betting markets closely? Leeds United drew their own conclusions and were not at all impressed.
They are lucky to have a manager who prides himself on straight dealing. McDermott’s press conference on Thursday was an exhibition in honesty and class, killing the story dead without upsetting the club he works for or the country he intends to manage one day. Leeds looked for a categorical statement and got it within 24 hours. There is no reversing out of that one.
You suspected from the outset that the Irish vacancy would not suit McDermott – too early in his career and too soon after he and United shook hands in the nick of time last season. It still needed him to say so. His remarks were hypothetical without any indication of what the FAI actually intended to do but McDermott seemed aware of the damage he would cause by walking out on a transitional club. Who at Elland Road is prepared for that scenario?
The events of this week might encourage United’s board to consider contingencies in the event of losing McDermott but it is inconceivable that a Plan B was in place when Delaney lit the fuse. United’s manager is five months into his job and part of a plan which extends beyond this season. He has acclimatised to the nuances and limitations of his post and, as much as a manager can, sought to embrace them. He is a good match for a club who rarely find good matches.
Take an overview of United and you will find a bunch of loose threads. There is the training ground at Thorp Arch, a facility which compares to most but has not really moved with times. The complex was upgraded at McDermott’s request during the summer and will probably be tweaked again at future points in his tenure.
There are, for the first time, barriered fields with suitable drainage for development squad and junior fixtures. Even the media have more elbow room. To McDermott’s own ends, the work would have been rendered pointless by him sweeping in and out inside six months. Better off throwing the money at a winger.
The academy too is being moulded in his fashion, primarily by the change in role that gave development-squad manager and first-team coach Neil Redfearn a foot in both camps. It was McDermott’s way of smoothing an unhelpful divide at Thorp Arch, allowing two camps to more closely resemble one. The staff in the academy like the set-up; without any obvious exceptions, they like McDermott. You sense a purple patch coming in a system that meandered for a while.
There are no grounds yet for saying the same about United’s first team. McDermott has signed only four players and will need at least another transfer window to morph Neil Warnock’s squad into his own. Noel Hunt aside, he has taken the visionary route with the money available, signing younger players whose reputation and pedigree he believes he can rely on for several seasons. Other coaches might feel differently.
It adds up to a manager who plans to be in situ for a while. And in that respect, the premature loss of McDermott would have left United in disarray. They do not want a fourth boss in two-and-a-half years, given control of a squad with remnants of all three of his predecessors. Cutting players from the wage bill has been hard enough. There are many threads to pull together but McDermott has the advantage of knowing how the end product should look.
The circumstances at Elland Road mean suitable fallbacks – good managers willing to work as United need them to – are few in number. There is Gus Poyet, out of work after leaving Brighton, but he and his entourage do not come cheap and the way in which he came to blows with Brighton depicted the Uruguayan as high maintenance.
He had a new stadium on the south coast and a new training ground on the way. Albion’s playing budget was reasonable. Not enough, apparently, and journalists in Brighton were predicting a parting of ways as long ago as February. How would GFH Capital’s policies sit with him?
McDermott understands the reality and tolerates it. It would have shocked everyone to see him throw his hat Ireland’s way. But Delaney’s comments will remind Leeds that a productive environment is essential for a manager who others patently admire. McDermott has shown himself to be an honourable coach. United should never take him for granted.