Westwood needs to be number one
Soccer:Republic of Ireland Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood has revealed he will “have to assess” his situation if he fails to make the starting line-up for Saturday’s Barclays Premier League opener at Arsenal.
With Shay Given retiring from international football on Monday, Westwood now has possession of the Irish number one shirt in Giovanni Trapattoni’s team.
With a World Cup qualifying campaign looming, Westwood last night produced a confident display as Ireland held Serbia to a goalless draw in Belgrade, producing two fine saves in particular.
The 27-year-old, however, has already been warned by Trapattoni he has to be playing regular club football to hold on to the coveted spot. Last season a run in the Black Cats side was halted by illness on New Year’s Day, allowing Belgium’s number one Simon Mignolet to take up the reins and hold down the post for the remainder of the campaign.
In pre-season Mignolet and Westwood have shared the goalkeeping duties; the latter performing superbly in a 1-0 pre-season loss at Leicester on Saturday. It makes Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill’s team selection for the game at the Emirates one of the most important of Westwood’s career.
“The gaffer doesn’t name his team until two o’clock on a Saturday so I’ll be waiting up until then,” said Westwood. “Hopefully I’ll get the nod, and if I don’t then I’ll have to have a look at it. You have to be playing club football, which is my aim, to get into the first team and I’ll take it from there. If I don’t play it’s something I will have to assess, but my main aim is obviously to get into the team.”
Westwood’s determination to prove himself was underlined by the fact he returned to pre-season training a week earlier than his team-mates who had also been on Euro 2012 finals duty. “I didn’t need as much time off as I thought I would do.
“So I went back early, got my head down, played in some games, and I think I’ve done quite well over pre-season.” But asked pointedly whether he would consider looking elsewhere if he failed to figure against Arsenal, Westwood replied: “I don’t want to get into that.”
If his club and country careers do take off then last night’s outing against Serbia will serve as a solid platform on which to build. Westwood, however, believes Given should play in one final game for the Republic to ensure he goes out on a high.
After 125 caps over a 16-year period, Westwood would love to see his close friend, Given, take a final bow. “I know this is an opportunity for me,” said Westwood, who has yet to speak with Given but will do so over the weekend.
“Ever since I got into the squad about four years ago now, I’ve been working towards this moment. Shay is a great friend and a great goalkeeper, and I’d like to see him play one more game to get the adulation he deserves. He has put in 16 years of hard work and he deserves every bit of praise he gets.
“Of course he’s a very proud man, and to play for your country for 16 years, it’s a long old stretch. But he deserves praise for what he has done for Ireland. He is one of my heroes, one of my idols, and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”