GIOVANNI Trapattoni is nothing if not predictable. That may sound slightly caustic, but since taking charge of the Boys in Green, the Republic of Ireland manager has rarely been known for throwing caution to the wind.
He was back to his stable best on Monday, when announcing his squad for the two games against Macedonia and Uruguay. Many of the usual suspects were there – Dunne, Duff, Kilbane, etc. However, perhaps Il Trap will surprise us all and shake things up a little.
Of course, he has no option but to take a chance on a (relatively) new netminder in Kieren Westwood. With Shay Given out for the remainder of the season, the Coventry City ’keeper has a chance to stake his claim on the Number One shirt – Given may still have some miles left on the clock, but if Westwood is playing well he may prove hard to shift.
It’s further up the pitch that Trap has the chance to raise a few eyebrows. Looking down the list of the 29 players named, it’s three of the strikers mentioned that will probably dominate the speculation in the days coming up to the game – Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long will be vying for two starting places on March 26. Three into two doesn’t go (unless he surprises us all and goes with an attacking trio up top!) so who will miss out?
Form should be the factor here, but we shouldn’t be surprised if it’s Long who is left kicking his heels on the bench in the Aviva. Of the strikers named in the squad, Long has been in the richest vein of form of late. Ordinarily, you’d believe that six goals in his last ten games (or 12 since the start of 2011) would be enough to guarantee a striker a starting role – any other nation would surely think the same – but Trap is not the kind of man to pick a team on what he’d regard as a whim. Caution is his name, playing safe his game. Granted, Ireland are not world-beaters, and by and large Trap has done well with the players at his disposal – but perhaps now is the time to step things up a level.
The Irish fans have, in the main, stuck behind Trap since his arrival. There have been some incredible highs – the French game away, where he seemed to throw aside the stabilisers and embrace free-flowing attacking football was a joy to watch. But for all the good moments there have been some negatives. Not killing off the Italians (not in the Sopranos sense of the word) was one. Sitting back and letting the Russians dictate the Euro 2012 qualifier in October was another worrying moment, and the most recent.
Hopes were high going into that game – good results for us, coupled with a Russian defeat to Slovakia, had the crowd buzzing before kick-off that we could end the night top of the group, above our main rival.
It was a totally different story mid-way through the match; we were shell-shocked, left looking ragged by a Russian side who couldn’t believe their luck, as the Irish rolled over. A quick look down the line highlighted the frustration of the home crowd. Rather than don his fireman’s hat and fight the blaze in front of him, Trap was stood on the corner of his technical zone, hands in pockets, with an almost glazed look on his face as the Russians carved his side open with their passing.
Ireland were two down after half an hour, 3-0 behind with 40 minutes to play. We looked out of our depth, and the fans knew it. Many had left their seats by the time Robbie Keane won and converted a penalty. Others were heading for the exit door, but were then coaxed back when Long grabbed a second goal to set up an enthralling final 12 minutes. Long got under half an hour that night and helped to reignite what looked a lost cause. Who knows what would have happened had he started?
If you want to further the campaign for Long’s inclusion, look no further than the tally of what strikers trade in – goals. In 25 club starts Kevin Doyle has netted eight times for Wolves this season, and is their current top scorer. Keane, although blighted by injury and the chill of being frozen out at Spurs, has hit the net twice from 16 games (four starts, 12 sub appearances) with Tottenham and West Ham. As for Long? He has 20 goals from 40 games (39 starts and one sub appearance). So what if he’s playing at a lower level – a goal’s a goal. Besides, his two FA Cup goals were picked off against Liverpool and Aston Villa.
If pushed for a verdict, it’d be Long and Doyle who get the nod for Macedonia. It’s not a witch-hunt against Keane, but the old habits we thought he’d buried in the rubble of Lansdowne Road (complaining and cutting a frustrated figure) have worryingly started to return.
It may be too much to hope for a revitalised Ireland – would Trap dare to use the likes of James McCarthy, Ciaran Clark and Seamus Coleman all at the same time? – but surely Long has served his time on the sidelines. Go on Gio, give him a go.
The Republic of Ireland squad named to play Macedonia and Uruguay is: Keiren Westwood (Coventry City), Darren Randolph (Motherwell), David Forde (Milwall), Kevin Foley (Wolves), John O’Shea (Manchester United), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Sean St. Ledger (Preston North End), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Darren O’Dea (Celtic), Kevin Kilbane (Huddersfield Town), Marc Wilson (Stoke City), Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Paul Green (Derby County), Liam Lawrence (Portsmouth), James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Keith Treacy (Preston North End), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Keith Fahey (Birmingham City), Damien Duff (Fulham), Robbie Keane (West Ham United), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Shane Long (Reading), Leon Best (Newcastle), Andy Keogh (Bristol City).