Trapattoni keen to exploit age limit change
SOCCER/ WORLD CUP QUALIFYING: HAVING ACKNOWLEDGED he tries to keep the lines of communication open with Stephen Ireland in the hope that the Manchester City midfielder will at some stage change his mind and return to international football, Giovanni Trapattoni may be about to embark on a wider bridge-building exercise in the wake of last week’s decision by Fifa’s congress to lift the age limit on players switching allegiance to another country.
The move was proposed by Algeria and supported by a string of African nations hoping to welcome back players who played at underage level for former colonial powers, most notably France, before failing to progress to the senior level and so being left in the international wilderness.
The effect is wide-ranging, though, and opens up the possibility that Trapattoni might approach the likes of Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan, Jamie O’Hara of Spurs, West Ham’s Mark Noble and Sunderland’s Anton Ferdinand about declaring for the Republic.
All four have played for England at under-21 level, with Noble having scored twice against the Republic 18 months ago, but none of them has looked like breaking into the full England set up and Nolan, in particular, having prevaricated in the past, looks a likely candidate to reconsider now.
“It’s very, very important news,” said Trapattoni yesterday. “When I was coach with Italy there was a player who would not play for us because he hoped to play for Argentina and so I am familiar with what happens in these situations.
“I know we have many young players in England who might have played for the English under-21s. There are maybe three or four who could certainly strengthen our squad and we can have a look at them again and see if they want to play with us.
“Maybe,” he concluded, “they don’t want to play with us but it’s important that we are able to ask.”
The move might have come a little too late for the Italian to have any chance of luring Bolton’s Gary Cahill into the Ireland camp as the defender was called into the full England squad last week and may make his debut against Andorra on Wednesday night, but Nolan could prove a useful addition to the Ireland panel while a declaration by somebody like Noble, who has just had an outstanding season at the Hammers, would be an enormous boost.
There is a significant number of other players affected by the rule change, including highly rated Preston North End goalkeeper Andy Lonergan and Trapattoni suggested yesterday he will be weighing up the situation over the close season.
The Italian said he is pleased to have friendly games against Australia and South Africa lined up in August and September as they will give him further opportunities to look at peripheral or new players prior to the conclusion of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign with the home ties against Italy and Montenegro in October.
In Saturday’s draw against Bulgaria, Sean St Ledger started for Ireland just eight days after making his debut against Nigeria in London, while another relative newcomer, Leon Best of Coventry City, came on for Robbie Keane a little over midway into the second half.
Before the games at Croke Park in October, however, there is a trip to Cyprus in September when the Irish will be hoping to make amends for the nightmarish evening there a couple of years ago when they were beaten 5-2.
There was some good news for Trapattoni in relation to that game over the weekend with Michael Konstantinou, who scored twice on that night in October 2006, and Konstantinos Makrides, who also performed strongly in that game, both picking up bookings in Saturday’s draw with Montenegro which means they will be suspended when the Irish come to town.
The two results on Saturday evening have effectively killed off any lingering hopes the Cypriots had of mounting a late challenge for second place in Group Eight and the 1-1 draw against the Bulgarians in Sofia, where Richard Dunne got Ireland’s goal in the 24th minute, maintains the team’s five-point advantage over the group’s second seeds and keeps the pressure on Italy at the top of the table.