Charlton, who will be 61 in May, suggested before October's game against Latvia that he would not stay if the Republic did not reach the European Championship finals next summer. In Portugal last month he denied saying any such thing and announced that the public, rather than the press, would be the arbiters of his fate.
Now, in the aftermath of a 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands, which confirmed the Dutch as the last of the 16 qualifiers, the procrastination has to stop. Charlton is said by sources close to the Football Association of Ireland to want to continue, a feeling which may have intensified when he saw what appears one of the less arduous routes to the 1998 World Cup.
Publicly at least, the FAI is backing Charlton, who in the past decade has led the nation on a great adventure and to the finals of both major tournaments. Various players dutifully reiterated their support for him yesterday, while 20,000 Irish fans at Anfield chanted "We want Jack" long after the final whistle.
Some observers interpreted the clamour as evidence of a popular desire for Charlton to carry on. Others felt it was a show of gratitude for the memories - but, for all that, a "thank you and goodnight".
Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager, said yesterday that he would be "delighted" to oblige if a vacancy arose. Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear might also be a candidate. However, the Charlton era has taught the FAI the importance of looking beyond its own former players.
Dublin's bookmakers have already installed Kenny Dalglish as 7-4 favourite, although whether Blackburn's director of football could afford the pay- cut is another matter. Dalglish leads a field which ranges from Ron Atkinson through relative managerial novices such as Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton to David O'Leary.
Martin O'Neill, of Norwich City, could be a dark horse, despite being a former Northern Ireland player. The problem of succeeding such a larger- than life-figure were encapsulated by Tony Cascarino: "It would be very difficult for anyone to take over now," the striker said.
It may be time for a change, none the less. On Wednesday's evidence, that old Jack magic is no more than an outmoded philosophy. International football has become more of a passing game than a contact sport, but Charlton, by his own admission, is "of the old school". The route-one approach he calls "simple" was exposed as merely simplistic by the sophistication of the Dutch.
The ball seldom left the ground when Guus Hiddink's side were in possession; it was hardly ever on it when the Irish had the ball. Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf proved themselves prodigious midfield talents; the finishing of Patrick Kluivert was ruthless and precise; and the imposing Michael Bogarde demonstrated against Cascarino that the Dutch have not forgotten how to head a ball.
Before he left the post-match press conference in a huff, Charlton's decision to send on Alan Kernaghan for John Aldridge was queried. It was a switch made with valid tactical aims in mind, but seemed to sum up his lost touch for it meant the Irish had seven defenders on the pitch when they were a goal behind.
Charlton, extraordinarily, had no attacker on the bench, having deemed Mark Kennedy too young for such a big game. The Liverpool winger is, in fact, two months older than Kluivert.
So farewell then... Four Irish stalwarts near the end of the line
Age 37 Debut 1986 Caps 67
Once said of the amount of chasing and closing down defenders he was expected to do for the Republic of Ireland: "Much more of this and our legs will be worn down to stumps." Aldridge's 19 international goals (eight against Latvia) put him one behind Frank Stapleton's record, but the Tranmere Rover no longer has the legs for the role.
Age 33 Debut 1986 Caps 59
"I'll go on until I'm not wanted," he said after Wednesday's defeat, going on to question where the young strikers were to replace him. David Kelly (30) and Niall Quinn (29), hardly fit that bill but, despite Cascarino's improved touch since joining Olympique Marseille in France, they also have pace and technique on their side.
Age 33 Debut 1986 Caps 65
Winning goals in the epic successes of the Charlton years, against England and Italy, made him a talismanic figure. So it does not bode well for Houghton's international future that he was not brought on against the Netherlands at the ground where he won championship medals, even when the Irish captain, Andy Townsend, was injured.
Age 36 Debut 1985 Caps 80
"We've wrung as much as we can from Paul," Charlton said following Wednesday's match. "He's been magnificent but there is a limit." McGrath holds the Republic's caps record despite injuries and a tendency to go AWOL, and he was Ireland's best player at Anfield after the goalkeeper, Alan Kelly. No successor of comparable class is on the horizon.Reuse content