Ireland don't play "primitive" football – they don't play any football at all

Ireland don't play "primitive" football – they don't play any football at all

“Ireland’s play is primitive.”

Martin O’Neill has rejected a claim by Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney that the Republic of Ireland play “primitive” football. Well, sort of rejected it.

Delaney made the statement following Saturday’s goalless draw between the two sides at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

“This is not an insult, this is positive in what I mean, but Ireland’s play is primitive,” the Borussia Dortmund midfielder said.

“But you can survive very long being primitive and they make it very difficult for us. and, yet, they suddenly out of nowhere get a big chance. We were struggling a lot to find the room that we wanted.”

O’Neill was asked about the remark and responded by saying that Denmark can be equally physical. He then spoke about some of their players in an answer that didn’t really address the point Delaney made.

“It’s not long ago that Denmark were considered a primitive side with a world-class player,” O’Neill told reporters in Abbottstown on Monday afternoon, ahead of Ireland’s tie against Wales on Tuesday night.

“They can still play primitively when they want to. It’s sometimes quite easy to make those sort of remarks. Denmark, who did do exceptionally well in the World Cup, they eventually didn’t cause us that many problems.

“They are a strong physical side and if you were asking teams around Europe, they’d say Christian Eriksen is a world-class player. Delaney is a top quality player. (Pione) Sisto plays in the big league too. But they can dish it out themselves when it’s necessary. They are as physical as any side in European football.”

The Ireland manager is correct when he says that Denmark can be just as physical as Ireland. But, much like O’Neill’s team selections, it’s difficult to make sense of his answer.

He seemed to consider that Delaney was solely referring to Ireland’s physicality. However, the Danish midfielder was probably also speaking about Ireland’s approach in the match.

It was a dire contest on Saturday evening, devoid of quality or notable moments from either side. Denmark, without Christian Eriksen, struggled to break through Ireland’s defence. The home side managed one shot on target.

Possession statistics can be easily dismissed, and O’Neill, who won two European Cups as a player under Brian Clough, would undoubtedly pay them little concern. But Ireland only had 34 per cent of possession on Saturday evening and completed just 71 per cent of their passes.

It’s very difficult to get a positive result playing in such a fashion, and the hosts appeared to be attempting to contain Denmark. They sat deep and booted the ball long when they came into possession. There was little evidence of any discernible pattern of play or idea of how to hurt Denmark.

Delaney’s remark also wasn’t entirely correct. To say that Ireland play in a “primitive” fashion suggests that there is some idea of how the team should play. There is little evidence that there is.

For example, one could claim that Jack Charlton’s Ireland team played in a “primitive” way. It wouldn’t be an insult either.

Under Charlton, Ireland played long balls behind the opposition defence, got them turned and pressed high. It wasn’t pretty or sophisticated but it was effective.

Under O’Neill, there is no discernible pattern of play.

If Ireland were “primitive” in the manner that Delaney spoke about, then that would mean there was a semblance of defensive organisation or a plan for when they come into possession.

The evidence from the pitch suggests that there is neither. Although O’Neill would undoubtedly say otherwise.

The players lump the ball away before they can make a mistake and retreat. They’re told to “just deal with it” when they come into possession and the manager laments that he doesn’t have any world class players to select.

But, rather than O’Neill being dealt a poor hand with this current Ireland squad, it could be argued that the players are the ones who are being short-changed with the current manager.

Under O’Neill, Ireland don’t play “good” or “bad” football, they don’t play football at all. If only Ireland actually did play in a “primitive” way.