Monday, February 27, 2012

Irelands Olympic football dream

Three years ago the Ireland Under-21 squad began the qualification process for this summer’s Olympic Games.

Don Givens was the Ireland manager who had been in charge for the previous nine years. The qualifiers were in fact also the qualifiers for the UEFA Under-21 Football Championships  At the end of the year Givens gave an interview to the FAI website in which he lamented the lack of a new Robbie Keane emerging through the ranks of the under 21’s. He said “If we had a player with Robbie’s ability to take a good proportion of his scoring chances…” then Ireland would be more competitive at this level. He went on to say in the interview that the main purpose of developing this squad was player production for the senior squad. Up to that point Ireland had played six games in the qualifiers, losing two and amazingly drawing four games in a row 1-1.

Givens lasted just one more game, in which we lost at home 2-1 to Armenia who had already beaten us 4-1 in the previous game. In July 2010 Noel King took over and in his very first game in charge Ireland won 5-0 at home against Estonia. The scorers on the day were Anthony Stokes (2), James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Crystal Palaces Owen Garvan. Givens interview stating that Ireland could create chances but not take them began to sound like someone grasping for excuses that just were not there when his team was failing to perform. The introduction of King showed that the Ireland team had goals in them, when the right players were picked and if the right tactics were played. At that time the Ireland squad had players such as the afore mentioned Stokes along with Adam Rooney, Cillian Sheridan, Robert Brady and Sean Scannell, available for selection and in the squad,  who were scoring goals regularly with the clubs they were playing for.

In the end King’s appointment came too late and Ireland ended up finishing, very disappointingly, bottom of the group with just one win from ten games. If we look back at the squad available and added the current batch of players who would be eligible for an Olympic Squad, if Ireland had qualified, then the enormity of the opportunity lost becomes a little striking. The squad would have all of the above mentioned players along with James McClean, Shane Duffy, David Meyler, Conor Clifford, Greg Cunningham, Rhys Murphy, James Collins and Keith Treacy who would have been fighting for places with some of the exciting young League of Ireland talent such as Seamus Conneely, Aaron Greene, Enda Stevens, Jay O’Shea, Ian Bermingham or Daniel Kearns who are playing either in Ireland or have been exported across the water. Coupled with the introduction of three senior players such as maybe Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Richard Dunne; then it is easy to see how formidable a squad this would have been.

I firmly believe that with the proper support and backing of a good manger the Irish Under-21 team could have gone all the way to a semi-final finish at the UEFA championships in 2011 (which would have nearly secured us a berth in this summer’s Olympics). That Under-21 tournament was played in Denmark with Switzerland finishing second to Spain. The Swiss had been in Ireland’s group and we had lost one and drew one against them. In Denmark they had only conceded two goals the whole tournament and that was in the final against Spain. It is conceivable that Ireland could have and should have done a lot better at this level.

Either a lack of ambition or an over emphasis on the senior squad has led to a missed opportunity to represent Ireland at a very prestigious competition. As a nation Ireland’s first international tournament was the Paris Olympics in 1924. We played Bulgaria in our first match winning 1-0 and then our second losing to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, 2-1 after extra time.  So there is a history for us in this competition but in the modern times this tournament has fallen down the lists of priorities.

Hopefully in the future with a decent manager and some good administrational support we can make a real push towards qualification in 2016, these players are good enough for a world stage they just never had the chance to prove it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

McClean wins the Ballon d’Or!

James McClean Ballon d'Or winner?

No not really but that maybe the only way James McClean may get to go to the Euros this summer.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s drastic turnaround in calling up James McClean into the Ireland squad for the upcoming friendly against the Czech Republic is soured slightly by the inclusion of Paul Green. Green is a typical Trap player and is doing well with Derby since his return from injury. A hard working grafter who will do exactly as he is told, he will sit in front of the back four and he will not take any risks going forward. At the moment, though any of the central midfielders, who Trap has already called up, will go to the Euros before Green. 

The wily old Italian is using the presence of Green to show the Irish football public what type of player he values. Inviting Green into the squad at the same time as McClean is a clear statement by Trap that defensive, conservative, solid team players are prized over attack-minded players who are willing to push forward to take chances at the expense, maybe, of losing the ball. 

The football public can scream and shout all they want but trap will not be turned. Seamus Coleman was called into the Irish senior squad in October 2010 for the Russia and Slovakia qualifiers. But Coleman, who was going well with Everton at the time, had to wait four months and three games before he managed to get a game. Even then it was against Wales in the non-event which was the Nations Cup.

Ireland has three friendlies to play between now and the opening game of the tournament. The Czech Republic on the 29th February, Bosnia and Herzegovina on the 26th May and then Hungary on June 4th. The UEFA deadline for the announcement of squads for this summer’s tournament is May 29th. Taking Seamus Coleman’s experience as the framework for being present in Traps plans then I am afraid that there just isn’t enough time or games for McClean to get a ticket to Poland.

So the only hope for James McClean, to stand any chance, is to play even better than he is playing now and outstrip every other Irish player in the world, basically enough.  Not too hard as he is currently doing that already, but that has only merited him a “second thought” call up to a friendly.  So according to Trap’s philosophy McClean will need to win the senior Player of the Year, and maybe even the Ballon d’Or, to even stand a chance of going.

I know I am being at bit harsh on one of the most successful managers of all time and one of only three Irish managers who has brought qualification to a major tournament to these success starved shores. But lest we forget a year ago most of the country was ready to show Trap the door. No one in the media had much confidence in him and undoubtedly his team was very hard to watch. The fact that his playing style has not and will not change has been forgotten in a wash of excitement. This tournament could go either way for Ireland. But the chance of a sudden change in heart for Trapattoni does not bode well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How can Trap vindicate McClean’s exclusion?

James McClean

Can leaving the likes of James McClean, Anthony Pilkington and to a lesser extent Marc Tierney at home, in favour of bringing Darren O’Dea, Kevin Foley and Keith Andrews really be beneficial to Ireland’s hopes for this summer’s tournament? 

In my opinion Traps excuses of players not fitting in or not being ready are just not strong enough explanations. In fairness I do know what he means to an extent. A unit that has a strong bond and seemingly good understanding such as that, which is outwardly perceivable of the Ireland squad, can be upset by the addition of an outside player. This is especially the case if the player seems to be just parachuting into the squad and is, on the face of it, not worthy of that position. This could cause havoc in a squad and go a long way to breaking up any team spirit, which has been so carefully nurtured to this point. If this was the case then I could understand. But if a player is hardworking, skilful and is in unbelievable form, then it is hard to comprehend a decision to exclude him. This is not like your local Sunday league team whereby it is absolutely amazing the number of players that will come out of the woodwork if any sort of chance at success comes knocking at the teams door. Some of the players that Trap is leaning towards leaving behind are extremely hard working individuals whose only crime seems to be that they have not been noticed before by either their club or their country.

As far as anyone who follows Irish football can see there has always been a strong bond in any Irish squad put together down through the years. So this is not something that Trapattoni has suddenly created. Even under Steve Staunton, when Irish football was going through a (ahem) dry spell, most of the players for the majority of the time; were very supportive of every member of the team. So Trap’s latching onto this tradition and using it as an excuse to leave players out is just not acceptable. This is not amateur football no one is trying to jump on the bandwagon.
Il Trap
James McClean, of the three, has got to be worthy of a place. To date, he has played 13 times for Sunderland and scored 4 goals. He is far and away one of the best Irish players currently plying his trade across the water. So a decision to leave him at home because he is not trusted by the management seems very weak. 

Trapattoni though has been let down by players before. Whether this was due to a breakdown in communications because of cultural differences, or to differences due to the language barrier it is unknown and quite a separate discussion. But Trapattoni in his wisdom has decided to go with the age old proverb of being once bitten and twice shy. There will be no exception to that rule this time round and players like James McClean can look forward to watching the Euro’s from the comfort of his couch like the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Who will slip through Trap’s door?

The squad Giovanni Trapattoni will announce on Friday, for the upcoming friendly against the Czech Republic will, in all likelihood, be the Ireland squad to partake in this summer’s European championship. But it  will not, unfortunately, contain too many surprises. Trap’s insistence of sticking with the tried and trusted individuals who have gotten Ireland this far, means that there will be very little if any space for players  whose current performances would merit them a call up with any other nation. Trap has his boys and he’s staying loyal to them. This loyalty may seem very noble and honest but at what cost?
There are players currently plying their trade in the English Premier League who are markedly better than some of the players that Trap has thus far used. The man himself would say that the players he has used so far are the ones who have got us this far and that it is only right that they be  the ones who should go to Poland/ Ukraine. But the problem is that ignoring skilful players who are currently performing well and indeed setting the EPL alight smacks of craziness.
In my view there are a number of players who should be on the plane to Poznan and so I have compiled this squad of top performing Irishmen in the EPL. (And of course I have added in a couple of players who I know Trapattoni will not leave behind and who are not playing in the EPL)
Shay Given, Kieran Westwood, Darren Randolph
Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Stephen Ward, Marc Tierney, Ciaran Clark, Seamus Coleman, Kevin Foley, Sean St Ledger.
Stephen Hunt, Damien Duff, Darren Gibson, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy, James McClean, Anthony Pilkington,.
Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Jonathon Walters.
Leaving out Leon Best was a hard call but Walters is playing so well and scoring at the moment that it would be madness not to bring him. Dropping Kevin Doyle was not an option either as he always seems to perform better for Ireland than he does for Wolves. But in not naming Best I have found that maybe I am also falling into the loyalty eh trap (no pun intended).
At the end of it all I don’t envy Traps job but I think this squad here has more potential than any that will be named in three weeks.