Continuing on a last week’s theme of opinions-that-turn-to-facts-because-they-are-repeated-so-often, it’s time to talk about the Ireland soccer team and, specifically, the make-up of their squad for the European Championship.
The view that has graduated to stone-cold truth is the players that got us to the Euro 2012 deserve to make the trip to Poznan and Gdansk. They’ve earned it!
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has intimated that he won’t deviate from his trusted troupe. “We must have respect for the players who achieved qualification. I think they deserve to go,” he said.
And various players have spoken of the sense of unity among the regular squad and how it would be a pity to threaten that with changes to personnel.
“The manager is smart enough,” said Richard Dunne. “He knows the squad that has been here for all the games and the people he can trust and rely on to turn up.
“I don’t think it will change too much from that, so I can’t imagine there’s going to be many people entering the squad who haven’t been part of it through the last two years.”
Keith Andrews weighed in with: “I’m sure the lads will be aware of how we have bonded as a group and I don’t think they would relish anything like that [players emerging with Irish ancestry] happening.”
Chancers with a half-Irish gran-aunt aside, you could be forgiven for thinking the June games against Croatia, Italy and Spain are some kind of bonus scheme, written into the players’ contracts.
You’d have to ask yourself, though, if we’re looking at a major championship as a reward for unglamorous toil – rather than a fresh, more demanding competition – are we almost guaranteed to not perform as well as we can?
Surely we need our 23 best men on the plane; the players that represent our elite in June 2012, not November 2011. Since when did playing a small – or no – role in the qualification bar you from the main event? Would Ireland have beaten Italy in USA 94 without the presence of Jason McAteer, Phil Babb and Gary Kelly? What about Niall Quinn in 1990? He served as understudy beanpole to Tony Cascarino in the qualification process but starred in Italy. What about Steven Reid in 2002?
Stand still and the world won’t do you the courtesy of standing still too. You’ve got to push on. Strengthening a squad is the immediate priority of any newly-promoted club. A certain team might have been good enough to get you into the Premier League but, without reinforcements, that team is unlikely to thrive in the higher echelon.
Similarly, a group of players have served Ireland with distinction in qualifying us for the European Championships – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made to step aside if there is somebody better in their position.
Perhaps there aren’t superior options in any given slot on the Irish team – or even the squad. The pity, though, is there seems to be no real will to find out if there is something brighter out there.
James McClean has made a magnificent impact with Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland. Under most managers, his name would be underscored for immediate international consideration. One hopes he gets a chance to show his stuff in the friendly against Czech Republic at the end of the month, but the manger has form when it comes to overlooking exciting wide men. Seamus Coleman has proved himself in the Premier League as an accomplished full-back or winger. All the evidence suggests he could be at least as effective as Stephen Hunt and even Damien Duff or Aiden McGeady. Yet, time and again, Trapattoni sticks to what he knows.
James McCarthy has demonstrated maturity to match his talent in central midfield for Wigan this season. Trap is said to have texted his approval. Now he must call the young ball-player to tell him he’ll get a chance to prove his worth for Ireland.
There are other causes – some more celebrated than others – in the marginal XI I’ve taken the liberty of picking for Ireland’s friendly; men who deserve a chance.
Everybody knows what the established squad members can do by now. There’s no point making them show us all over again. After all, this isn’t close enough to the main event to be a warm-up game so it might as well be used as an audition to bolster the supporting cast.
Granted, one game – in some cases one half-game – of soccer isn’t sufficient time to illustrate your value but it’s better than what many on this theoretical team are going to get: no minutes in a green shirt before Euro 2012.
Every group of players benefits from a timely infusion of fresh blood. Sending out an experimental team heartens those looking to make a late surge and wards off complacency among the stalwarts. And, crucially, it heightens our chances of unearthing that one player – or maybe two or three like in 94 – who can bring an extra, unforeseen dimension to our campaign.
Trapattoni must cast the pretenders into the deep water; see if at least one of them can make waves. Treading water and hoping the current will carry you along is no kind of sensible policy.