AFTER WEEKS OF fevered speculation, Giovanni Trapattoni is confident that he has settled on the right men to see Ireland through next month’s European Championships.
Trapattoni announced a 23-man squad with few shocks or surprises in the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, including Sunderland winger James McClean as one of eight midfield options in the panel.
But there was sad news for another rising midfield star, with Wigan’s James McCarthy turning down the manager’s offer of a place on the plane to remain at home with his father who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Trapattoni also announced a five-man standby list — including Everton’s Seamus Coleman and former Derby County midfielder Paul Green — whom he can call up to the squad if necessary.
Explaining his selection, the Italian stressed that he has picked players who will fit the style and system that saw Ireland through their qualifying group and the play-off against Estonia.
His desire to stick to what has worked in the past explains the absence of creative alternatives like Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan in midfield, he said.
“We haven’t forgotten him, but we build a team with another system for the situation. There is also James McCarthy, Stephen Ireland but we couldn’t change the system because the qualifiers were important, there were no friendly games.
“We have a stronger midfield, stronger wingers, and I did not wish to change the striker because I am convinced that we could not play with only one striker and Hoolahan.
“We achieved qualification with this mentality, with this system, with this attitude. We decided on this system because we have strong wingers and the midfield is stronger.
It is not the English football league, it is international football. It’s a little bit different. We want always to get the balance in this team — strong, quality. We have no Messi or many other creative players — Ronaldo, Maradona. We have a strong team with this organization, with this balance and this is the reason why.
I won thank God the cup, the league cup, the Champions cup with a team like this. Afterwards, the results will show.
In a statement issued through the FAI this afternoon, James McCarthy said that he had discussed his decision to withdraw with Trapattoni who was “very understanding, and I thank him sincerely for that.”
Asked if he had tried to make alternative arrangements which would have allowed the midfielder to join up with the squad despite his personal circumstances, Trapattoni said that he had spoken to him, but in the end had little option but to respect the player’s wishes.
“I spoke with him. He said he would prefer to stay at home because psychologically he was not ready. I have to respect this, it was his choice. It’s difficult to try to convince him. He’s 21-years-old and this is the situation.
I tried to convince him that maybe there was this opportunity but he said that he was sad [not to go] and I have to respect this situation. I told him to think about the future, and surely he will be with us in the next campaign.
The Italian refused to name the player who had benefited from the midfielder’s absence: “It’s not important. Now it is not the question.”
The decision to include McClean, who has been one of the Premier League’s most exciting young stars under Martin O’Neill at Sunderland this season, will please many Irish fans.
Trapattoni has long said that he would reward the loyal players who helped Ireland to qualify and, with some of these not making the final cut, explained that his decision was a difficult one.
It was not easy. I said a long time ago that we would call up the players who deserved it and who helped us to achieve our qualification. But in fact we’re missing two or three on the standby list — Paul McShane, Paul Green, Seamus Coleman, Andy Keogh. They are the first options.
I have sympathy but I also have a duty. At this moment, McClean is playing well, not only because he’s scoring. He’s young. I told the other options [on the standby list] that surely they will be with us for the next campaign.
On the strengths which McClean will bring to the side, he continued: “He is growing his personality. I think he can give us energy and quality. Now he has scored three very important goals.
“In 10 days, we have three games, so we need the players who can play maybe as an option to Duff or McGeady. In the second or the third game, McClean can be important. He has time in the future as well to grow. More confidence, that is important. More personality, that is also important.”
There was even a hint that the former Derry City youngster could be Ireland’s equivalent of Toto Schillaci who scored six goals at the 1990 World Cup, or another Italian legend, Alessandro del Piero whom Trapattoni managed as a youngster at Juventus.
We bought Del Piero at Juventus when he was 17-years-old. He was on the bench and for the second half, I told him to go on. Four minutes and thirty seconds, he scored a goal and I said he will have a great career, Del Piero is fantastic.
You asked about Schillaci. May God be on his side that he will be like Schillaci.
Ireland squad: Given, Westwood, Forde, Dunne, O’Shea, St.Ledger, O’Dea, Ward, Kelly, Foley, Whelan, Gibson, Andrews, Fahey, Duff, McGeady, Hunt, McClean, Keane, Doyle, Cox, Long, Walters.
Standby: Randolph, McShane, Green, Coleman, Keogh.