The tenure of Giovanni Trapattoni as Republic of Ireland manager has been marked by an unremitting scrutiny of squad selections.
Indeed, the squad selections of the wily Italian have consistently encouraged discussion of the status of those absentees whom many feel merit a place. At the beginning of his reign, for example, the controversy surrounding the exclusion of Andy Reid dominated much of the discussion, with RTÉ panellist, Eamon Dunphy, sounding off with scathing criticisms of Trapattoni’s decisions when it came to choosing his squads.
James McCarthy, the prodigious young midfielder who had been playing regularly for Wigan in the Premiership, seemed to have been overlooked in favour of the likes of Glenn Whelan and Darron Gibson who, despite their greater age and experience, were effectively reserve players for Stoke and Manchester United respectively. Derby County utility player, Paul Green, who was plying his trade a full division below McCarthy, even gained a few caps at McCarthy’s expense, which was the cause of some consternation among Ireland fans.
Trapattoni has a tendency to disregard his players’ club form when considering who to select. Recently, Newcastle United striker Leon Best has seen his chances of a call-up limited, in spite of impressive displays for his club, with Trapattoni stating that Best lacks the work rate to perform in his team – a strange justification from a man who had included Best in a number of previous squads. These are just a few of the players who have failed to make an impact in Trapattoni’s Ireland team. However, despite the fact that his decisions are commonly perceived as strange, stubborn and detrimental, Trapattoni has steered Ireland to the play-offs of the current Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. But if Ireland are successful in qualification, he will need to look at other options in order to bolster his squad in order to contend with the might of Europe’s elite.
There are a number of positions in the Irish team which are considered “problem positions”. These are areas of the squad where the current crop is quite average or where there is a substantial lack of depth. The two areas which are in major need of improvement are central midfield and defence. However, it is imperative that managers always consider ways in which to improve and build on their entire squad. I have compiled a list of seven players who may, based on their current form and potential, make their way into future Ireland squads.
Anthony Pilkington – Although he was born in Blackburn, England, Anthony Pilkington represented Ireland at under 21 level in 2008 as a Stockport County player. Now aged 23, the exciting winger finds himself playing in the Premiership for Norwich, where he has impressed by bagging 3 goals in 8 games so far. It remains to be seen whether or not Trapattoni believes Pilkington can make a valuable contribution to his Ireland squad and indeed whether or not Pilkington sees his future as an Ireland player, but his talent is indisputable.
Robbie Brady – 19 year old winger Brady is a product of Manchester United’s youth system and is currently on loan at Hull City in the Championship. After being predicted to make a breakthrough at the age of 18, Brady suffered a series of injuries which stalled his progress. However, the 2011-2012 season is, thus far, proving to be a success for the former St. Kevins Boys youth. His international career appeared to be in jeopardy when he had a very public disagreement with under 19 manager Paul Doolin, but Brady answered the charge that he didn’t want to play for his country by scoring an impressive 3 goals in 6 performances for Noel King’s under 21 side. Brady is unlike any winger currently within the Ireland squad. He is an all-round, all-action winger: strong in the air, tenacious in the tackle and keen to score goals from anywhere he can find space. Indeed, he has made a considerable contribution to Hull’s efforts this season and may yet find himself on Trapattoni’s radar.
David Meyler – 22 year old Cork man David Meyler is another of Ireland’s prodigies whose career has been blighted by injury. He joined Sunderland in 2008 but has had the terrible misfortune of suffering not one, but two career threatening knee injuries. However, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has declared that the strong defensive midfielder is finally back in contention, praising the Irishman’s determination and resilience to overcome his injury. Meyler represented the under 21 team on 7 occasions and was earmarked for a place in the senior squad at the age of 21 before injury struck. Now that he has returned to full fitness, he could very well be the answer to Ireland’s central midfield crisis, should he gain match fitness.
Shane Duffy – Many players say they give their all when playing for their country, but Shane Duffy literally almost gave his life. At just 18 years of age, Duffy found himself included in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland squad before he suffered a life-threatening injury in a training game. Now 19 years of age, Duffy has since recovered from his traumatic experience and the Everton defender finds himself on loan at Scunthorpe United, where he has featured prominently in defence. Like Robbie Brady he is a current under 21 international and although he is young and relatively inexperienced, Trapattoni may consider the Derry man to be worthy of a call up after some impressive performances.
Sean Scannell – Crystal Palace forward Sean Scannell has been included in previous Ireland squads by Giovanni Trapattoni, but has failed to make his mark during the Italian’s tenure. 21 year old Scannell has played for Ireland at all youth levels, but has recently withdrawn from a number of Noel King’s under 21 squads due to injuries. However, the young lightning paced forward has been a consistent member of the Crystal Palace first team since the age of 17 and has a wealth of experience under his belt. With 3 goals in 13 league games this season, Scannell has proven his talent, but he will face stiff competition for a place in a squad which is already over-subscribed with strikers.
Conor Sammon – Former Derry City striker Conor Sammon has been touted for a call up since his time with Kilmarnock in the SPL. After scoring a prolific 15 goals in 23 league appearances for Kilmarnock in the 2010-2011 season, 24 year old Sammon was snapped up by Premiership side Wigan. However, he has yet to make his mark on the Premiership, having mainly featured from the substitutes bench. Nevertheless, while his chances of getting a call up are slim, Sammon is a proven goalscorer and with talisman Robbie Keane entering the twilight of his career, Trapattoni will need to consider all options that are available to him.
Conor Clifford – Chelsea reserve player Conor Clifford has represented Ireland at all underage levels, often playing a full year above his age-group. A skillful midfielder with great vision and a powerful shot, the 19 year old captained Chelsea to FA Youth Cup glory and has had two loan spells to date, with Plymouth Argyle and Notts County. Indeed, Clifford’s progress was recently recognised with a call-up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s senior side in August 2011 and he may well receive further call-ups considering the dearth of quality currently in Ireland’s midfield.