Wednesday 16 January 2019

Don's wary of new 'recruits'

Givens tips Spurs' O'Hara for Ireland call, but urges caution on rule changesFORMER Ireland caretaker manager Don Givens believes that Tottenham man Jamie O'Hara is the most likely new 'recruit' to the Irish cause due to FIFA's recent rule change on international eligibility.

But the current Ireland U21 team boss warns that Irish football must be wary of being used and exploited by players keen to use their Irish link as a tool to get a cap with another nation, and he stresses that the Irish team should not be "hawking" itself around the UK to bring on board new players who are no longer good enough for England.

For a number of years now, players have been able to 'change' their nationality and declare for another country even after playing underage international football for another nation -- but they had to do so before their 21st birthday.

But following a campaign by African nations, led by Algeria, FIFA last week voted to remove the age restriction, so any player can now switch allegiance at international level from one country to another, provided, of course, he was eligible for the 'new' country and that he had not been capped at senior level by the first nation.

There was a special 'window' opened up in 2004 to allow players to change countries on a one-off basis, and under those terms Jon Macken (one U20 cap for England) declared for Ireland, played at Lansdowne Road against Bulgaria and was never seen in an Ireland shirt again (in fact he was last spotted playing for Championship strugglers Barnsley).

So for the last week, Irish football has been in a tizzy about the prospects of stellar (ahem) names Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, Gary McSheffrey, Kyle Naughton, Jamie O'Hara, Gary Cahill and Andy Lonergan all declaring for the Republic despite playing for England at underage level in competitive games (Noble and Lonergan even played for England against Ireland in qualifiers), as they are now entitled to do, but any addition of new blood to Trapattoni's squad is likely to be more of a trickle than a flood, according to Givens.

"Looking around the leagues in England, there aren't too many who will come under our radar now and Jamie O'Hara is the most likely to get involved with us, from what I can see," says Givens of O'Hara, the England U21 midfielder who made 15 Premier League appearances for Spurs last season and who has Irish grandparents.

"He has played for the England U21s, but he hasn't made the progress he'd have liked, he's 22 now and at the minute he doesn't appear to be in contention with England, he's not stepped up to the senior squad with them, so he could get involved with us.


"I haven't spoken to the player, I know Liam Brady has as he worked with O'Hara at the Arsenal academy when he was younger and there may be a line of communication there.

"O'Hara is a decent player, he got a few games in the Premier League last season and Giovanni will decide if he can add anything to our squad, if the lad decides he wants to play for us.

"But I think we have to play this very carefully, we have to strike a balance between the need to get good players into the Ireland squad, while also keeping doing things the right way and retaining your pride.

"We could really get ourselves into a messy situation over this, with players coming out and saying they are keen to play for Ireland as they're now eligible, where they may only be testing the water to see if England or Scotland are still interested.

"To me, there should be no doubt about it, pulling on that green shirt and standing up for the national anthem for the first time should be the biggest moment in any player's career, not just a career move and not just a threat to get England, or whoever, to cap them instead.

"But we can't be seen to be hawking our wares around the place, trying to persuade players to play for us, you have to want to play and that has to be key, in my book," added Givens.

Givens stresses the commitment to the Irish cause shown by two Scottish-born players, whose lives and careers in their native Scotland have been harmed by their 'defection' to Ireland.

"Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy are cases of players who played for us because they wanted to, not because it was a good career move," says Givens, who has capped both players at U21 level.

"James came to play for us at U19 and U21 levels knowing, from the McGeady case, of what reaction there might be in Scotland, but he had an affinity with us and wanted to play, which was great to see, and McGeady also had a real dedication to the Irish team.

"That's why I don't worry about this FIFA rule change hurting us, with players going the other way and going back to Northern Ireland or Scotland after playing for us underage.

"Players who come and play for us at youth or U21 levels do so for a reason, they want to play, so they usually stick with us," added Givens.

Some players have worn the green shirt of Ireland at underage level but then gone off and played for other nations, such as Andy Lonergan, Gary Liddle (both England), Barry Maguire (Holland) and Ryan O'Leary (Scotland) and Givens feels that makes a point.


"Ryan O'Leary was involved with us, he played for us at youth level and he had all the credentials as his dad (Pierce) and uncle (Dave) were senior Ireland internationals, but then he opted to go and play for the Scottish U19s and his career hasn't progressed since," he says. Trapattoni will look at the weak spots in his current squad before mounting any recruitment drive of newly eligible players, and while a top-class central midfielder or a free-scoring striker are always welcome in any team, full back is a concern for Ireland, with question marks due to age, injury and club form, over both of the full backs who started the current campaign, Steve Finnan and Kevin Kilbane.

That's why Kyle Naughton, the Sheffield United full-back who has already been linked with Premier League clubs (Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester United) could be most interesting of all, but Givens has already spoken to the Blades man in his role as U21 manager and he does not expect Naughton -- also eligible for Scotland -- to turn green.

"I spoke to Naughton and he was aware of our interest when he played for the England U21s last season, but he seems happy to be with England," says Givens.


"I don't think it's the case that England fast-tracked him into an English U21 cap when they knew we were interested. Their next U21 game was at Bramall Lane, his home ground, so it was on the cards anyway he'd play in that game.

"And I think we have to also realise that just because a player is eligible to play for us through the parentage rule that he will want to.

"Kyle Naughton was born in England so he feels it's natural that he will play for England and we have to accept that," added Givens.

The timing of all this is significant, as the rule change came into place around the same time as Ireland effectively secured second place in their World Cup qualifying group and are in the best position to qualify for a major final for the first time since 2002.

"There must be a World Cup finals around the corner for Ireland. Not alone are the injured making speedy recoveries ahead of next month's friendly with Russia, but so are Irish grannies making miraculous appearances up and down Britain," McCarthy said after Ireland qualified for Korea/Japan.

"It amuses me that people still think it is easy to become an Irish international footballer and easier still to gatecrash the World Cup finals without any regard for the players who got us to the Far East.

"Any aspiring Irish player, born in Ireland or outside, has to prove to me that he wants to play for this country. If he doesn't he can forget about it and I don't care where he was born. Anyone planning to gatecrash the Irish squad now had better be good and hungry."

Words that Giovanni Trapattoni would do well to read and consider before Irish football decides to allow someone jump aboard our bandwagon.

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