Let the guessing games begin
No matter who Giovanni Trapattoni selects in his squad for Euro 2012 somebody’s going to be very disappointed and everybody is going to have an opinion.
With the finalised squads not due on Fifa’s desk until 10 days before the tournament starts on June 8th, there is plenty of time for things to right or wrong for those hoping to be on the plane.
However, barring injury, it is obvious Trapattoni has the core of his squad in mind and there really are only one or two places up for grabs.
In all, 23 players can travel, three of whom must be goalkeepers. There appears little doubt as to the pecking order in that department with Ireland blessed with two Premier League standard shot-stoppers in first choice Shay Given and able replacement Keiren Westwood.
David Forde of Millwall seems to be ahead Motherwell’s Darren Randolph after two caps this year, once off the bench against Northern Ireland in the Carling Cup in May and once from the start in the 2-0 friendly win over Italy in Liege, where he acquitted himself well.
So, that leaves 20.
Trapattoni said something revealing today when referring to the squad at his ‘morning after’ press conference.
“More or less the squad for yesterday, this is the squad.”
There’s very little wriggle room there and to hear the manager speak like that will be a massive relief to some players, though not Kevin Kilbane. The veteran’s time has come, it seems, and it is very unfortunate for him.
However, after a shaky start and a dizzyingly bad spell against Russia in Moscow, Stephen Ward has gradually made the left-back role his own, and has got the balance right between defence and attack.
John O’Shea and, more recently, Stephen Kelly have both filled in on that side and are sure to travel as well. Trapattoni’s decision making will be heavily influenced by versatility and, while the inclusion of O’Shea is a no-brainer, Kelly too has played right, left and in the centre for the Italian and will offer cover for both Ward and the former Man United player.
On paper, the remaining full-backs available to Il Trap are Paul McShane and Kevin Foley. Again, I believe Foley’s ability to offer cover, albeit in an emergency, in midfield will see him named.
In the centre of defence, Richard Dunne, Seán St Ledger and Darren O’Dea pick themselves. The latter did very little wrong in the four appearances he made in this campaign and was excellent in Moscow if completely overshadowed by a superhuman performance from Dunne.
In midfield, there are a number of bankers. The central pairing of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are sure to travel if fit, while Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt will be named.
That’s five, but we need eight. And this is where it gets contentious. But again, referring back to Trapattoni’s comment about the squad for the Estonia game, the names of Keith Fahey, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman stand out.
Fahey may as well be grouped with the five certainties. He was not a regular starter during the campaign but he unquestionably made a contribution and besides, he offers something on the flank or in the middle that nobody else does: vision and the ability to act on it.
Coleman and McCarthy have been two of the most contentious figures of the campaign – largely because of Trapattoni’s refusal to use them competitively. McCarthy was used for three minutes against Macedonia in March, Coleman failed to make the bench last night.
Both are vying for places on a pitch where Trap is well covered by loyal servants. Whelan and Andrews will always start in the middle, it seems, and Coleman has no right to think he deserves to get in ahead of Duff or McGeady. But he is versatile and is another that covers more than one position, having some experience at full-back, though he needs to build on his bright start with Everton this season and leave the manager with no choice but to select him.
McCarthy is on slightly more precarious ground, in my opinion, primarily because of the re-emergence of David Meyler, whose return to fitness for Sunderland might see him be the one ‘bolter’ picked by Trapattoni.
Meyler fits Trap’s system better than McCarthy. Trapattoni tried to accommodate the Wigan man against Uruguay when playing him ‘in the hole’ behind Shane Long, but it didn’t work out. It’s often forgotten, though, that at no stage did either Whelan or Andrews play against the team that would be crowned Copa America champions a few months later.
In fact, Liam Lawrence, Paul Green, Keith Fahey and Andy Keogh were the starting midfielders that night, which was somewhat unfair on a youngster under pressure to perform.
At some stage, the manager is going to have make a decision on McCarthy one way or the other, but if Meyler stays fit – a big ‘if’ – the Italian may just opt for the more familiar option.
That leaves the frontmen – perhaps the easiest of all areas for Trap because all have performed and two of the five I think will be in the squad can offer right-sided cover on the flanks.
“Strikers, we usually need four, but some strikers can also play out wide on the right or left too.”
Another interesting quote from the manager today, suggests he is looking to bring five strikers, including the ones that can offer a natural option on the right, like Simon Cox or, to a lesser extent, Shane Long.
Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle are dead certs and the other three – the aforementioned duo and Jon Walters – are not far behind.
Leon Best may be able to muscle his way into this quintet but it’s difficult to see who might make way. Trapattoni appears unconvinced by the Newcastle striker, who can be a nuisance when he’s on his game, but again, might not offer the same amount of options provided by those more recently involved in the squad.
So, that’s 23. Cover for every position. In the interests of symmetry, I’ve listed them below in groups of four but it I am not suggesting, for instance, that Cox’s first position is as a winger, or Coleman a full-back.
Granted, there’re no surprises, but Trap doesn’t do surprises.
Goalkeepers (3): Given, Westwood, Forde
Full-backs (4): Ward, Kelly, Foley, Coleman
Centre backs (4): Dunne, St Ledger, O’Dea, O’Shea
Wingers (4): McGeady, S Hunt, Duff, Cox
Central midfielders (4): Whelan, Andrews, Fahey, McCarthy
Strikers (4): Keane, Doyle, Walters, Long