Ireland ready for end of Charlton era

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The Independent Online
Football

To say that Jack Charlton's days as Republic of Ireland manager are numbered would be an understatement: it now seems merely a question of how many. Perhaps as little as one if senior figures within the Association of Ireland have their way. It is not so much that they will push him before he jumps, more that they are inclined to give him a helpful little nudge.

Charlton is expected to fly into Dublin today for a meeting with leading FAI executives amid mounting speculation that the most enduring managerial reign in European international football is about to end. In the fall- out from the European Championship play-off defeat to the Netherlands at Anfield a week ago, he said he would consider his position over Christmas, intimating that at the very least he would like to celebrate a decade in charge on 7 February before taking his leave.

But, if a decade suddenly seems a short time in football, then the last seven days also demonstrates that a week is a long time in politics - and there has been plenty of that in the corridors of the FAI's Merrion Square headquarters.

Phone-in polls have seen Charlton's popularity remain undimmed, but there is increasing dissatisfaction with Saint Jack within the footballing community as a whole. The deep-lying conservatism which has prompted some erratic selections in the defeats by Portugal and the Netherlands (six defenders started both games, seven finished the latter) and increasing evidence that Charlton's personality and methods no longer influence an ever-changing squad has prompted most leading FAI power brokers to seek his departure. Furthermore, many are frustrated that a decade of unprecedented growth at senior international level has coincided with 10 years of stagnation at under-age level.

The need for a quick decision is compounded by the meeting of national managers in Liechtenstein on 23 January to agree fixtures for the World Cup qualifying campaign and a February friendly. Hence, by last Friday, senior figures within the FAI were disclosing that Charlton had indicated he would resign before, rather than after Christmas, and a statement was procured from "an FAI spokesperson" which said if Charlton did not voluntarily resign then the FAI would have to consider their position.

By Monday, the FAI's chief executive, Sean Connolly, confirmed that Charlton had requested a meeting with FAI executives in Dublin this week and "he only seeks meetings like this when there is something to discuss". By Tuesday he had reputedly cancelled his Christmas get-together over a few drinks with top FAI figures.

By yesterday, an emotional and irate Charlton was confirming he was coming to Dublin to meet leading FAI executives. "All I wanted was time to make up my mind and now it looks as if I'm not going to be given that time," he said.

Meantime, in the succession stakes, Mick McCarthy has overtaken Joe Kinnear and Kenny Dalglish in the betting.

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