When notification came Tuesday night that Kenny Shiels had said something bizarre, there was little surprise.
Anyone who has followed the former Derry City manager’s career will know that he has a tendency to stray in an unexpected direction whenever microphones are placed in front of him.
James McClean today recalled Shiels’ memorable comments from 2016 about players being called up for international teams.
“International football isn’t what it used to be,” Shiels said.
“There’s no more pride in that because you could drink a pint of Guinness and play for Ireland.
“I don’t care a bit, not a bit.
“The Republic of Ireland are England’s reserves and Northern Ireland are England’s reserves. It’s devilish. I don’t have time for any of that.”
The punchline is that Shiels is now the manager of the Northern Ireland women’s team.
And he’s doing a pretty good job leading them to the European Championships this summer, a feat that’s prompted a lot of introspection in those parts given they’re dealing with a weaker hand than Vera Pauw.
The upbeat mood in Belfast drew 15,348 people to Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against England, a turnout that should give the FAI some food for thought as to the upper limit of their ambitions.
After a tough loss for his side, Shiels took a sledgehammer to positivity.
“I felt that sometimes they struggled a bit to open us up until the psychology of the 2-0 lead in the women’s game was enough.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve gone through the patterns – if a team concedes a goal, they concede a second in a very, very short time, across the spectrum of women’s football because girls and women are more emotional than Men,” he said, an unexpected answer to a trite question. “So they take a goal that doesn’t go in very well. When we were down 1-0, we tried to slow it down to give them time to get that emotional imbalance out of their heads.
“It’s a problem we have. Not just in Northern Ireland, but in every country in the world. I shouldn’t have told you that.” Only the final word was somewhat accurate. The rest of the comments defy analysis.
Unsurprisingly, an apology followed, and as the clip went viral and circulated around the world, suspicions lingered that there would be pressure on his employers in the IFA to take a stronger stance. We may not have heard the last of the story.
It would be easy to dismiss the comments because of the eccentricity of the source. But the reality with these things is that the statement goes further than the backstory of the person behind it.
Coincidentally, Shiels has previously spoken about having trouble controlling his emotions after games. He lost his job as manager of Scottish club Greenock Morton after a 10-2 defeat that saw his side concede three quick goals before the break. Gender was not used as an excuse.
Recent history of the men’s Champions League is littered with spectacular collapses from teams that have conceded goals in quick succession, making Shiels’s theory easy to discern.
But the danger now is that in important games – like this summer’s European Championships – a hasty concession of goals by a team will result in someone somewhere making the contrary suggestion that Shiels might have been right.
It shows that, despite all the progress made in recent years, women’s football still has a long way to go to overcome the curse of sweeping generalizations.
Yes, there are many goals in international matches at this level – 20-0 and 15-0 results in Uefa qualifiers underscore that – but it is a consequence of the dramatic gap between the nations. In some cases, outdated attitudes in their jurisdiction hold back the have-nots from spending on improvements.
This cause will not be helped by offensive comments from a person actively working on the game. It would be different if it was an out-of-touch blazer or an attention-seeking expert.
Pauw will probably be asked about it at her next media appearance. And she could reasonably point to how her side kept their nerve after conceding a goal in Gothenburg on Tuesday.
But the damage is already done no matter what spin Shiels’ Descent is executed with.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/international-soccer/no-matter-what-the-spin-kenny-shiels-offensive-comments-are-another-setback-on-road-womens-football-has-to-travel-41551756.html Daniel McDonnell: Whatever the outcome, Kenny Shiels offensive comments are another setback for women’s football