Football: Charlton quits with the legend intact

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The Independent Online
In the end, a nudge was all it took. Whether or not Jack Charlton had wanted to resign as Republic of Ireland manager this side of Christmas, his mind was made up for him after a secret meeting with senior Football Association of Ireland executives in north Co Dublin yesterday. Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager, is the favourite to succeed him.

Although the end, when it came, came quickly, it was a shambolic finale to Charlton's tenure, thanks in the main to shabby treatment at the hands of his employers. Both the location and time of his meeting with the FAI was unknown; there was no formal press conference afterwards and, as the media assembled in increasing numbers to await his arrival at his pub in Baggot Street, the FAI executives went underground.

Only time, or a remunerative tabloid exclusive, will tell whether Charlton, who led the Irish to victory in 46 of his 93 games in charge (only 17 of which ended in defeat), had planned it this way, or indeed whether he intended to go at all in the new year. In any event, on his arrival at 11.45am in Dublin airport, Charlton was whisked away to the secret location and a statement announcing his resignation was released by the FAI after the meeting.

In it Charlton revealed: "I have felt for some time there was a need for change. Ten years is a long time in the job. They have been brilliant years. I have enjoyed every minute - the 'crack' has been great - but everything must come to an end."

Confirming that Ireland "was in my blood now", Charlton said he would spend more time in his adopted homeland and will always be on the end of a phone for his successor. "It was a dreadfully difficult decision to make, but I felt it was in the best interest of the Irish team," he said.

The FAI president, Louis Kilcoyne, was fulsome in his praise for Charlton. "The FAI and the people of Ireland in general owe Jack a huge debt of gratitude for all he has done for football and the country in the past 10 years," he said.

"Jack has steered our international team to levels of success never before achieved. In doing this, he has helped to expand the game into every corner of Ireland in a way which could hardly have been predicted 10 years ago. Thanks Jack, you have been a manager in a million."

For all that, as the first whispers concerning the private meeting began doing the rounds, it emerged that Kilcoyne, the three other officers present and the general secretary, Sean Connolly, had all informed Charlton they thought it was time for him to go.

From their perspective, the whole episode is a public relations disaster which will merely intensify the masses' loyalty towards Charlton. En route to his pub, Charlton stopped off at his favourite watering hole in central Dublin, Hill 16, where he was presented with a bottle of Bushmills. "I'm coming to terms with being unemployed," he said.

As news filtered through and other drivers recognised Charlton, a cavalcade of cars began following his vehicle to The Baggot, where he posed for the cameras and answered a few questions.

"I've been walking around with a lump in my throat for the past three weeks. That lump is now gone. I feel totally relaxed. I'm not upset. Ten years was right, the right time to go. Remember I'm now 60.

"I would have preferred more success. We should have qualified for two more European Championship finals," he added, referring in particular to the 1992 finals when Gary Lineker's late equaliser in Poland enabled England to qualify for Sweden instead of the Republic of Ireland.

Asked when the recent campaign went awry, Charlton said: "It all went wrong the day Paul McGrath headed the ball across and Keith Gillespie picked it up and Northern Ireland equalised." Yet subsequent to that 1- 1 home draw, the Republic beat the classy Portuguese 1-0 and a more reasonable turning point might be the 0-0 draw with Liechtenstein which prompted a run of four defeats out of five.

The timing was right, even if the manner of his departure was not. That he leaves with the public's warmth undimmed is as it should be. Inside The Baggot they began chanting, "Don't go Jack". The longest day was about to yield to the longest night.

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