Ryan Giggs gets lucky after bad break for James McClean and Ireland
O’Neill without McClean and Rice for Wales clash but is boosted my Randolph return
Wales manager Ryan Giggs during training ahead of his side’s encounter with the Republic of Ireland. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
He might well wish it wasn’t being squandered somewhat on the opening games of the new Nations League but as he prepares for the first competitive games since he was appointed Wales manager at the start of the year Ryan Giggs appears to be enjoying one of international management’s greatest ever cases of beginner’s luck.
The former Manchester United star would surely not, of course, have wished misfortune on anyone but James McClean’s broken wrist is just the latest setback to Martin O’Neill’s preparations for Ireland’s game in Cardiff with the O’Neill already down half a team of likely starters due to a novel mix of injuries and introspection. Ahead of the visit of Wales to Aarhus, meanwhile, Danish Federation have conjured up a fiasco that the FAI simply wouldn’t have had the vision or ambition to attempt back in its misstep ridden heyday.
Giggs, by contrast, is going into the games with a more or less full-strength squad that includes all of his biggest stars and a handful of English-born youngsters every one of whom seems entirely on top of their long-term international intentions.
“There is a decision to be made for all younger players like Declan Rice and myself,” says 21-year-old David Brooks, a former Under-20 England international who has been capped by Wales in three senior friendlies over the past year. “You can get all the advice in the world, but if you want to do something for yourself you have to [make a decision] for yourself.”
“I won’t be switching even if I don’t get on [against Ireland],” adds the Bournemouth midfielder.
The whole notion of switching international allegiance might upset some supporters but right now O’Neill might be forgiven for wishing Rice shared Brooks’ sense of certainty regarding his future. As long, of course, as the teenager was set on playing for Ireland again.
The 19-year-old’s decision to go away and think about things again was last week’s disaster for O’Neill and will surely have been forgotten about for a while as McClean fell heavily on his wrist in training in Abbotstown on Tuesday morning, sustaining an injury that required immediate surgery.
It is not yet clear how long McClean will be out but he will play no part in either of Ireland’s games over this international break and the player, fiercely committed when it comes to representing his country and still trying establish himself at a new club, let his frustration be known via social media while O’Neill was left to rejig a game plan, any initial draft version of which would have already had to allow for the absence of Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, Shane Long, Harry Arter and, of course, Rice.
At least Darren Randolph will be back. The 31-year-old hasn’t played since the 5-1 defeat by Denmark but some of the saves he had made towards the end of the qualification campaign had tightened his grip on the starting spot and he comes into this game off the back of some outstanding club form with five straight clean sheets for Middlesbrough in the Championship.
“It’s been a very good start,” he acknowledges before sharing the credit with his team-mates and, by extension, their new manager, Tony Pulis. “We do a lot of work on the team shape and it’s down to being organised and everyone knowing their role and doing their job, not taking any risks. We know how we’re going to play, what to do and what not to do.”
Like the Welshman, in a couple of his previous jobs, O’Neill has been criticised for his caution at times but Randolph reckons the Ireland manager gets the balance just about right given the resources available to him.
Horses for courses
“It’s horses for courses,” he says. “It’s whatever suits your team. Every team has naturally gifted footballers that are better on the ball than others so if they’re good on the ball you’re not going to play long ball. If you’ve got people good at playing the long ball, you’re not going to try and pass. Horses for courses, you do what’s best with what you have.”
And you need to build up points over the whole campaign to get to where you want to finish. There’s no point going out there, going hell for leather, and you lose the game and you’re not in a good position or don’t qualify. It’s not just that game that matters, it’s the overall campaign.”
The one to come, it seems, will be made that little harder by the absence of Rice who, even at 19, looked like he had enough about him to improve Ireland in these Nations League games but Randolph, who could have declared for the USA, has some sense of what the West Ham player is going through and insists it will not be a problem if he wants to come back.
“He’s a good player,” he says. “Obviously, he was breaking through when I was at West Ham. He’s only 19 and it’s probably tough having those decisions to make. But it’s really down to him to choose and do whatever he feels is best for him.
“If he comes back in, he’ll back in . . . it will be a case of forgetting about it all, getting back out on the pitch and performing. If he decides to come back and he’s playing well, I don’t think anyone will be worrying about it too much. They’ll say, ‘Thank God, he chose to play’.”