For the Irish football fan the Irish ‘Golden Generation’ is well and truly gone. Major internationals such as Robbie Keane, Glenn Whelan, Damien Duff and John O’Shea are either retired or on the verge of retiring. We were dealt more bad luck recently as Declan Rice, the West Ham superstar, declared England as the country he will represent at international level.
The only hope for our country is the youngsters that are up and coming in the ranks of Premier League clubs. Players such as Troy Parrot (17, Tottenham), Michael Obafemi (18, Southampton), Conor Coventry (18, West Ham) and Lee O’Connor (18, Man United) are players that we hope will spark a turnover in our national team’s fortunes. But are we too dependent on Premier League clubs? After all, there is only a handful of top players playing at this level. Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick and Matt Doherty are playing consistently at first-team level in England’s highest league, but who else can we say is Irish and plays at the top level?
At this point, it is time that Irish youngsters look beyond the English leagues – statistically when a young player goes to England to play football they are destined to fail. Only a very small percentage of Irish teenagers that go to England end up earning a professional contract and getting ‘sent home’ is a massive confidence drop for teenagers. It can lead to many things such as depression and quitting football entirely as they think they are ‘not good enough’. This is why I think teenagers should look beyond England for a career in football. Places such as Holland, Belgium and even the Scandinavian countries have very professional football leagues. Leagues such as these, away from the spotlight, would be perfect for Irish teenagers as it would give them time to grow not just as a player but as a person.
What about the game in our own country? Irish football will not improve until a huge investment gets put into the League of Ireland. At the moment the League is barely semi-professional, most Irish football supporters don’t even support the LOI as the product is inferior to the English leagues. The quality of football is so poor that only finals and big title games are shown on TV. This coupled with controversy over former C.E.O. John Delaney and other financial irregularities mean the product is not very attractive.
The average salary of a League of Ireland player is €16,000 a year or €400 a week before tax over a forty-week season. The average salary of a League Two player in England is about €58,000 when converted from pounds. The average salary of a player in the fourth tier of English football is almost quadruple the average of the League of Ireland. This highlights the gap in earnings and quality between the two leagues.
As a football fan, I would love to support a League of Ireland team as I would be able to go watch them play every week. However, the quality on offer just does not compare to any of the English leagues, even the fourth tier in English football is head and shoulders above the Irish league. We need to invest in our league and through this process, our national team will thrive once again.