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Giovanni Trapattoni ready to unleash James McClean
Giovanni Trapattoni does not really do 'unleash’.
But according to my colleagues on a well-informed Dublin radio station this week, the Republic of Ireland manager was ready to do just that with James McClean this week.
Then the former Derry City man got a sore throat and, as he did in Poland, Trapattoni will unexpectedly turn to the tried and, as a winger, untested Simon Cox as his wingman. Makes no sense to me.
McClean’s first competitive start for Ireland has been too long coming. I will forever fail to understand why the Italian refused to throw the eager Sunderland winger, after such a blistering first half season at the Stadium of Light, on the unsuspecting defences at Euro 2012.
Given how badly his rigid policy worked out, what did he have to lose in Poland?
McClean has been unwell this week, so we head to Kazakhstan uncertain whether he is lucky enough to be on the 15-hour hop to Astana, and if he can be guaranteed an `unleashing’ for Ireland’s tricky first World Cup 2014 qualifier.
It is a no-brainer for most Ireland observers – but there were plenty of those three months ago which failed to materialise – and if McClean does play and works in tandem with the (occasionally) talented Aiden McGeady on the right and left, Ireland have a real threat, and can move on from the loss of Damien Duff.
First though Trap will turn to Cox so he must continue to work to impress a manager who is hard to impress.
Sunderland are well represented in Ireland’s squad now. Keiren Westwood will get a chance to prove he is Ireland’s Number One, and should be Martin O’Neill’s, while John O’Shea will take the captain’s armband at the point Trapattoni decides Robbie Keane’s legs have had enough on Friday night.
The fourth Sunderland player on the plane didn’t expect to be there.
But fewer footballers deserve the (international) break David Meyler got this week, although he’s unlikely to feature on Friday.
His chance will surely come in the mouth-watering friendly against Oman at Craven Cottage on Tuesday night.
Meyler has spent the equivalent of a player’s lifetime in treatment and rehab over the last three years, paying the price with injuries which are a result of his exuberance and enthusiasm which seem somehow undiminished.
In the Malahide Grand Hotel on Monday night, a once-shy and reluctant interviewee spilled his guts to the Irish press, revealing the pain and endurance he has been through to get anywhere near a Sunderland reserve team, never mind his return to O’Neill’s squad and bench, and the unexpected call-up as mardy Darron Gibson’s replacement.
'I was called in two years ago,’ he said. 'But suffered two setbacks and had 20 months out.
'I have waited so long for the opportunity to play for my country and to be involved in this team. I have waited a long time but I’m delighted.’
And so it went on, including the graphic details behind his two horrific injuries. Not that he’s counting, but he revealed: 'We played Man United, Sunday, 2nd of May, 34 minutes into the game...’
'Roughly?’ said one of the lads, part joking.
'No, it was bang on’, he replied. Not a moment’s hesitation or recognition of any sarcasm.
'I went for the ball and Patrice Evra took a heavy touch and I went to tackle him and he leant his body in and I tried to wrap my leg around him but he fell on top of me and I got turned over on my knee.
'I had surgery and spent nine months out.
'In my fifth game back against Villa, there was 40 minutes gone in the game and I went to close down Carlos Cuellar and ended up doing my knee again and spent another nine months out.’
Republic of Ireland v Oman, Craven Cottage Tuesday September 12 is not a fixture many will be circling on the calendar. But David Meyler might.
The moment he controlled the long pass from Vurnon Anita, caressed the ball, stepped inside Ciaran Clark and then fired a blistering shot into the top corner was so devastatingly quick, Alan Pardew admitted he had no idea how Hatem Ben Arfa did it.
'I didn’t realise it was his right foot,’ said the Newcastle manager of a player who normally uses said leg for standing on.
'The goal was worth the admission price alone. It was a top hit,’ he added on Sunday evening after the strike had won Newcastle a point from pretty much nothing.
'He has exceptional power and technique. In training he is our best player and he is on the pitch too. If we can get four up like that we can be a great team, but we have a few to step up now.’
Pardew has played down any suggestion that Ben Arfa is playing with a point to prove after his Euro 2012 disappointment, and literal fall-out.
But there can be no doubt that Newcastle’s latest French enigma’s emphatic return to Barclays Premier League action is the Newcastle boss’s biggest bonus of the summer. Because there haven’t been many and he has enough to worry about.
The international break comes at the right time for Newcastle, which is not a sentence often uttered by clubs for the first round of World Cup games of the season.
It will allow the Newcastle manager and his staff time to work on the inconsistencies which have surprisingly crept in during this early phase of the season.
The untidy, frustrating draw with Aston Villa was just not on their agenda and they will work to address their faltering start this week.
Of course there are absentees as Newcastle prepare for their next league game, the visit of Norwich City and, for the first time, as an opposing manager, Chris Hughton who might just want to prove a point or three.
Yohan Cabaye is away with France, which will hopefully give him time to put a smile back on his face and return to the form he showed for the majority of last season, and during Euro 2012.
His first Newcastle season also inevitably led to attention from elsewhere – and Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal is not a bad list of suitors – but the transfer did not happen. He and Newcastle have to move on together.
No names were mentioned when Pardew attacked agents for turning the heads of some of his players during the transfer window but looking through the squad, and its current demeanour and form, and Cabaye’s unhappy facade does spring to mind.
Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse have to travel to Africa and back and play two vital games, hopefully this time playing like two men who actually know and will be playing every game with each other, rather than the two strangers who played upfront on Sunday afternoon.
The lack of in-comings to Newcastle during the close season has caused much consternation among the Tyneside faithful, although that overlooks the hard work that went on behind the scenes to keep the likes of Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Ba.
As Newcastle have unearthed so many gems over the last three years, such as that trio, it is difficult to question Newcastle’s transfer policy.
But the summer recess does feel like an opportunity missed, particularly to those who will always question owner Mike Ashley.
Anita is the only significant summer purchase, and a lack of depth to the striking options, already being felt by the joint absence of the Ameobi brothers, has to be a concern, especially with the Ba/Cisse axis looking so out of sorts, for now at least.
Plenty to think about for Alan Pardew then. Although one much-improved performance and a win against Norwich next weekend and suddenly the world will be a lot brighter for Newcastle.
And finally . . .
I am a little surprised Joe Bennett joined Aston Villa as the transfer window closed.
Clearly not as surprised as the player himself, and hopefully he will quickly get over his reluctance to quit Middlesbrough and move into the Barclays Premier League, where he belongs.
Bennett picked up the North East Football Writers’ young player of the year award last year, and, beating off Premier League competition, thoroughly deserved it.
The message from Boro was to build on that first season, but he struggled in a good Boro side and failed to make the starting line-up for the new campaign.
He has however shown he has the potential to go all the way to the England squad and I was a little surprised, with Sunderland desperate to sign a left-back this summer, that he was not Martin O’Neill’s radar.
Turns out he was expensive (Villa have laid down £2.5million initially with another two possibly) and consequently a risk.
His fee also relieved the pressure on Tony Mowbray financially and helped him comfortably see off Swansea’s interest in Marvin Emnes.
And Villa have signed one for the future in Joe Bennett.
With the right support from Villa to deal with any homesickness, he could feature this season to establish himself as a Premier League player, without having to wait for promotion with Middlesbrough.
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