Whelan keen to repay debt he owes to manager who had faith in him
INTERVIEW GLENN WHELAN:SLAVEN BILIC may have been consistently generous in his assessment of the Irish team and its tactics but then he is not exactly self-effacing when asked about the approach he will have the Croats adopt in Poznan tomorrow.
“I don’t have a headache – I just have plan A, B and C,” he says, clearly suggesting he has two more than his opposite number, before adding: “I will pick one of those plans and whichever plan I pick, it will be good.”
Ireland’s gameplan, on the other hand, will be both straightforward and familiar with Giovanni Trapattoni standing by the players and system he believes have been so instrumental in getting the team this far.
Few things epitomise the Italian’s time in his current post, though, like the faith he has placed in Stoke City midfielder Glenn Whelan whose opportunities to make an impact at this sort of level seemed to be slipping away as first Brian Kerr and then Steve Staunton overlooked him for their senior international teams.
Few would have imagined when Trapattoni flew an extended squad off to Portugal in order to weigh up his options that Whelan would make such an impression he would end up being the player the Italian capped most over the ensuing four years.
“When I got to the training camp in Portugal, for me personally it was like: ‘Right, this is it, take your chance. I had to try and show something because these things don’t come around too often.
“It’s 39 caps now. He was the only manager who believed in me to come into international football. What he has done for me, I’ll always be grateful for. If he hadn’t come along I quite possibly would not be sitting here today.”
If Trapattoni has placed enormous faith in Whelan then the Dubliner believes he has repaid it. Certainly his work-rate is beyond question and his partnership with Keith Andrews has become central to the manager’s strategy of providing protection to the team’s defence and then breaking forward when the ball is won.
The Croats, as it happens, might be defined as a counter-attacking side themselves and it will be interesting to see whether they seek to make more of the running tomorrow.
Much will depend, though, on whether the extent of Luka Modric’s influence on things from central midfield can be effectively limited by the two Dubliners. “It’s not just Modric,” Whelan remarks, “they’ve got other players as well but he is one of them that if you give him time and space he’ll hurt you.”
Asked, essentially, if the answer is to rough him up a bit, he smiles and shakes his head. “You can probably try and play that game against him but he’s small and slight, quick and sharp. If you try and be a little bit physical, I’m sure he’ll see that coming and nip by you in a second. No, it’s obviously a case of playing your own game but doing all you can to try and stop him.”
Already a favourite, the player has clearly impressed Trapattoni with the way he joined up with the squad just a couple of days after getting married. His wife and sisters will be there tomorrow in Poznan along with his dad, Dave, who is, he says,“doing it the proper way (with five of his friends) by camper van.”