Leaving aside the charade that Shane Keegan is now team manager, Saturday’s game against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds was the 10th league match which Filippo Giovagnoli has been in charge of Dundalk for.
While a new season brings a fresh start, his record over those 10 games is far from impressive reading.
Just 13 points out of a possible 30 on offer makes his the worst start of any manager since the late Sean McCaffrey managed nine from his first 10 games in that dramatic 2012 season in which the club struggled to survive both on and off the field.
Either side of that Ian Foster, Stephen Kenny and Vinny Perth all managed 18 points from their first 10 matches but the budgets of the first two could be deemed significantly less when they started while in Perth’s case the side did improve after a shaky start which saw him lose Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney to broken legs in his first league match in charge, ironically in a 1-1 draw with Sligo Rovers.
Giovagnoli – whose patrolling of the sidelines at The Showgrounds for the second half on Saturday shows who is really still in charge – will undoubtedly argue that this is a new season and a fresh start after a debut campaign in which he prioritised other competitions.
That may be fair too as, of the last 10 managers the club has had, he is the only one whose 10th game fell in a different year. However, given the budget and ambition of modern day Dundalk that excuse will not wash for long unless results improve.
Trevor Anderson, who had the worst record with just 6 points from his first 10 league games in charge, got away with the excuse of rebuilding for far too long.
While it’s much too soon to judge Dundalk or its boss one game into a new season, his league record to date doesn’t make impressive reading. He’ll now have to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Perth and even John Gill – who lost his first four matches in charge 15 years ago – and start picking up results so that when such statistics are reviewed after 20 games in charge he is much further up the list.
Last 10 Dundalk managers’ points total from first 10 league games in charge:
Martin Murray – 19 points from his first 10 Trevor Anderson – 6 points from his first 10 Jim Gannon – 14 points from his first 10 John Gill – 12 points from his first 10 Sean Connor – 10 points from first 10 Ian Foster – 18 points from his first 10 Sean McCaffrey – 9 points from his first 10 Stephen Kenny – 18 points from his first 10 Vinny Perth – 18 points from his first 10 Filippo Giovagnoli – 13 points from his first 10
Filippo Giovagnoli is set to have a reduced role at Dundalk FC this season with Shane Keegan named as team manager ahead of the start of the new SSE Airtricity League season.
The Italian, who had previously been coaching at the Metropolitan Oval Academy in New York, was a shock appointment as Vinny Perth’s successor last August following his departure from Oriel Park.
However despite some struggles in the league, Giovagnoli confounded his critics by guiding the Lilywhites to the group stages of the Europa League before clinching the FAI Cup with a 4-2 victory over Shamrock Rovers at the Aviva Stadium last December.
While the 50-year-old was appointed permanent head coach of Dundalk before Christmas, his title was downgraded to coach following a press conference by the club last Tuesday with Keegan, who had previously been an opposition analyst with the club, upgraded to team manager.
This is down to the fact the Laois man holds a Pro Licence. The former Galway Utd boss was in the dug out for most of Dundalk’s European matches last season after UEFA fined the Lilywhites €50,000 for ‘shadow coaching’ by Giovagnoli.
The latest move, announced by the club’s new sporting director Jim Magilton last week, is seen as a way of avoiding a repeat fine this year when the club returns to European action.
Confirming the club had discussed the matter with the FAI, Magilton said: “We just want to be open and transparent with you guys.
“It’s foolish not to be speaking to your governing body, we’re here to work with them. The lads are desperate to get their coaching qualifications and hopefully with the help and assistance of the FAI they can do that. Any guidelines they can help us with, we’re going to take it on board and work with them.”
Asked would Giovagnoli be picking the team for matches, Magilton said: “Filippo does not pick the team.
“In all my experience, I picked the team when we won. When we lost, the group picked the team. There is lots of consultations.
“You guys know the inner workings of a football club, there’s a lot of consultation. Opinions will be talked about and then it will ultimately be the manager that picks the team and you have to stand over that and we’re all aware of that.”
Asked would he expect pressure to come on him rather than Giovagnoli if results weren’t good, Keegan said bad performances would have a negative impact on everyone coaching at the club.
“If a team is doing poorly you tend to see the entire management structure or coaching structure as the ones who get the bullet, not just one person,” he said.
“Genuinely, I could count on one hand the amount of times myself and Filippo have actually had any serious disagreement in terms of picking the team. Thankfully the way this structure has come about, the lads have managed to put a structure of management staff and coaching staff that think extremely similarly in terms of our broad principles of the game and how the game should be played and what we want to try and do.
“It’s not going to be the case of one particular person pulling rank over any other particular person because 99% of the time after a discussion we generally tend to converge down the same path and almost always our outcome in any situation around our training plan for the week, our tactics for the weekend or our starting 11 generally come to a similar conclusion that we’re all happy with so there’s no pulling rank or anything like that.”
Magilton insisted that Giovagnoli, who was not present for the press conference at Oriel Park, was on board with the process.
“There are no issues. Okay there’s going to be times where there’s debate about picking a team but it’s about putting them into a shape and letting them play.
“How can you tell Chris Shields how to play or Cameron Dummigan? It’s about putting them into a shape that suits and benefits the team. We’re very lucky that we’ve got lots of good player and very lucky that lots of good players have come into the club. Coaching is very much about the mental side of this and getting them in a good place but ultimately what we want to do is really produce a playing philosophy throughout the club.”
Asked how the players felt about the new setup, club captain Chris Shields said: “Well I suppose you don’t run papers single handedly do you? You all work as a team and that’s the way we’ve got used to the coaching staff working, it’s a team effort.”
Magilton confirmed that he was working on getting Giovagnoli on a Pro Licence course as soon as possible although none are available in Ireland until next year.
It was confirmed that the Italian will continue to be in the dugout for matches.
Asked did he feel like the top man in the manner that he was previously at Galway and Wexford, Keegan said: “Probably not in the way that you said in Galway and Wexford because, in Galway and Wexford, I probably structured the management team a bit differently.
“Would I have massively sought everybody else’s opinions at Galway and Wexford, maybe, maybe not. Was I surrounded by the same amount of years of experience and different knowledge bases, maybe not.
“Filippo and Giuseppe’s approach to training is very different to that model and that’s been brilliant. I’ve been able to pick up so many different things, naturally enough you’re inclined to talk an awful lot more and seek opinions an awful lot more anyway just by the experience that is around, even without the kind of different model that’s here.”
Pressed on did he feel like he had been promoted, Keegan replied: “Em, I don’t know. I suppose technically, in terms of having the final final say that everyone seems to be so obsessed with then, it is seen as a promotion.
“I was 100pc involved in everything for the second half of last year, as was Filippo, as I will be this year, as will Filippo this year.”
Dundalk are hopeful of adding two further signings to their squad this week ahead of the new campaign which gets underway next month.
To date head coach Filippo Giovagnoli has brought in goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, defenders Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis, midfielder Sam Stanton and forward Ole Erik Midtskogen to add to his ranks over the off season but the Italian is confident of adding at least a couple more before the transfer deadline next Monday February 22nd.
The Argus understands that a winger and goalkeeper are amongst the main targets with interest renewed in former Derry City and Sligo Rovers star Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe.
The 26-year-old was top scorer in the league in 2019 and has had a good record against the Lilywhites in his season-and-a-half in the SSE Airtricity League having scored three times against his potential new employers, including the third goal in Sligo’s 3-1 win over Dundalk at The Showgrounds last summer.
It is also believed that the club are hopeful of securing a goalkeeper on a loan from a Championship club in England with 23-year-old Barnsley goalkeeper Corey Addai, who stands at a massive 6ft 7in in height, the prime target. Meanwhile a contract could also be given to 2014 title winner Peter Cherrie, who has been training with the club following his release by Derry City at the end of last season.
While free agents can be signed after next Monday’s deadline, anyone in contract with a club needs to have their move completed before then.
While he refused to be drawn on the players or their positions, Giovagnoli confirmed to The Argus on Sunday evening that he was hopeful of new arrivals to Oriel Park this week.
“We are looking to have a couple of signings this week. We’re working on it. It could be in one day or two days. We’re going to have news but not yet.
“We need to complete the team. We are close to completing the team. It’s not over yet but we want to make the right decisions.”
Aside from the potential new arrivals, Dundalk remain hopeful of securing a work permit to sign South Korean winger Han Eui-gwon.
The 26-year-old was one game shy of the 25% quota of games he was required to play in for former club Suwon Samsung Bluewings last season but as the K League season was curtailed due to Covid-19, Dundalk are arguing that the “most recent full season” – in which he played 76% of his club’s matches – should apply.
Giovagnoli said he did not have an update on how that deal was proceeding but remained hopeful of securing the services of the winger.
“I really don’t know because it’s the club that is dealing with this so it’s more a question for Jim (Magilton) and Bill (Hulsizer) because they are dealing with this,” said Filippo.
“I just feel that it’s a shame that a player like that could miss out on a move here. It would be great to have him in the league. It would be good for Dundalk but it would also be good for the league.
“I think the rules should be interpreted to deal with these moments because maybe he would have completed his 25% if they had played all year. The only reason he didn’t play was because he didn’t sign a contract because he was in a little bit of a fight with the club to leave but it is what it is.
“There are rules but rules should be interpreted well in this case because of Covid but let’s see. Maybe it’s going to end well but, if not, we have to look to something else.”
One player who departed Oriel Park last week is young winger Jamie Wynne. The club had been hopeful of retaining the 19-year-old, who made his league and European debut under Giovagnoli last season, but he has instead signed for Cork City.
Asked about the Malahide youngster, Giovagnoli said: “He was in pre-season with us and we said to him let’s see how it goes and we’ll talk about your future. I wanted to see him in pre-season with the team because of course Dundalk is a strong team. It’s one of the strongest in the league so finding space is not easy but then he decided with his agent to leave.
“I respect that if he feels it is the right opportunity but I just hope he is going to play. I wish the best for him because he is a really nice kid and a really hard worker.”
Meanwhile, another Dundalk youngster – Meathman Andrew Quinn – is also set to depart Oriel Park on loan with a move to Bray Wanderers expected to ensure the defender receives some vital experience this season. Will Patching will also join Derry City on loan.
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hoping his side’s new recruits give the team an element of surprise in the early weeks of the season.
While most of the new additions to squads across the league this winter are well known here, there is most certainly an unknown element to Dundalk’s five new recruits to date: goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, defenders Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis, midfielder Sam Stanton and forward Ole Erik Midtskogen.
“This is beautiful for the league,” said Giovagnoli.
“Here in every game you know what to expect so now maybe you won’t know what to expect and that’s nice. I think it’s important.”
While traditionally slow starters over the years, Giovagnoli is hoping his side can hit the ground running as they attempt to wrestle the title back from Shamrock Rovers.
“We don’t want to start slow, we want to start strong. We want to make a statement right away. We’re going to be really aggressive from the beginning. I’ve no doubt on that. We are working for that.
“I think if we have our best team on the pitch then we’re going to be really strong. I hope to have headaches every weekend and I think I will because even with the new players that we’re going to sign we will have almost two players for every position so then they have to fight for their position.”
Dundalk face a difficult start to the new season with games against three of last year’s top four in their opening four league matches but Giovagnoli is confident his side will be ready for the challenge.
“In this league I don’t think there are any easy games. Whether you play someone in the third game or sixth game, it’s not going to change much.
“We just need to be ready and healthy and fit for the start of the league and we’re going to be. We just need to recover the players that are injured and then we’ll be okay because our team is strong.”
The Italian is also keen to see how Shamrock Rovers look this season having lost Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff to APOEL and Hearts over the winter.
“Shamrock will be a different team from last year because without Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff it’s going to be a different team. They cannot be the same.
“Nobody is going to be the same but of course if you replace a player with a player that you know then at least you know their individual characteristics but the way that they play is going to be different for sure. The style will change for sure but let’s see how they look. I’m curious because I’m a student of the game and I like this kind of challenge,” he said.
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hopeful of having a full squad available for the start of the season next month.
At present up to half a dozen key players have yet to train with the rest of the squad due to injuries of varying scale.
However, speaking to The Argus on Sunday, Giovagnoli said he was confident almost all would have a good chance of being back either for the President’s Cup tie with Shamrock Rovers on March 12th or the league opener away to Sligo Rovers eight days later.
He said: “We have injuries that we’ve carried over from last year with Pat Hoban, Sean Murray and Daniel Kelly and even Mickey Duffy has something from last year.
“They are the ones that we have to observe more right now to make sure we have them back in March.
“Then we have a few minor injuries like Brian Gartland and Patrick McEleney but they’re really minor injuries and it should just be a matter of a few days.
“The four that I mentioned are the ones that are going to take a little bit longer but still I think I’m going to have them available for the President’s Cup or at least the first game.
“They are progressing a lot but we’re not going to push them or risk anything but I think by the middle of March we’re going to be in a different position.”
The Italian said that, despite those six absentees, pre-season training had gone well so far with the club’s five new signings all settling in well.
“They have completely confirmed the idea that I had about them,” he said of the new arrivals.
“They are doing well and they have a lot of potential. They’ve shown already their potential. They’re going to do well in this league and they’ve come here really motivated to do well. They are young players and I think that they can build a good future in Dundalk. They’re going to perform.
“I’m happy about all the new players. All of them are really good. We lost some players but we’ve replaced them with really good quality. To be honest, I’m really, really happy and this is just the start for them,” he said.