Sunday 25 September 2016

Indulging minnows like Gibraltar is a waste of UEFA’s time

Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30

Recently-appointed manager Jeff Wood will set his team up to frustrate the Irish, but delaying the inevitable defeat is their only ploy
Recently-appointed manager Jeff Wood will set his team up to frustrate the Irish, but delaying the inevitable defeat is their only ploy

There are dreams and there are ridiculous fantasies. An example of the former is the plumbers, firemen, office clerks and policemen of Gibraltar lining up beside Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and the rest of the world champion Germany team in a European Championship qualifier.

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Footballers of any level would love that experience.

If you were to offer a top Leinster League side, which is about where Gibraltar rate, such an opportunity, their players would take your hands off before you could blink.

Those of a certain age may remember a wannabe purchaser of Manchester United named Michael Knighton going on the Old Trafford pitch and juggling a football in front of the Stretford End. He was living a dream, too, before his brief cameo faded into the mists of time and history as he failed to get the deal closed.

Anyone can dream and everyone is entitled to their dream.

Where it gets ridiculous is any possible notion that Gibraltar, a rocky outcrop adjoining Spain with a total population of 30,000, can produce a soccer team fit for purpose – that is, good enough to make any kind of impression on top-grade international soccer.

In case you think it’s a bit rich of somebody from the Republic of Ireland suggesting that a minnow has risen above their humble station, let me be clear: I’m all for the little guy making good and I welcome Gibraltar into the UEFA football family.

My problem is that unlike the Republic, they don’t have a history of a professional soccer league, their players have no tradition of playing with the best teams in England and Scotland as our players have done for many decades, and they are so far out of their depth it’s embarrassing.

Their record to date reads: played six, lost six, scored one, conceded 34, including 7-0 hammerings inflicted by Poland, the Republic of Ireland and Germany.

Gibraltar cling to crumbs of comfort to justify the big adventure.

Lee Casciaro has gone down in history as the first Gibraltar player to score a goal in the qualifying campaign, a feat he achieved against Scotland. Goalkeeper Jordan Perez, a 28-year-old fireman by day, can dine out for the rest of his life after saving a penalty from Bastian Schweinsteiger in their match last June.

Reality

Well done, Jordan. Credit to you, but Casciaro’s goal and the Perez penalty save cannot mask the reality that asking Germany, Poland, the Republic, Georgia, and Scotland to indulge in two games each against the minnows is a huge waste of everyone’s time.

UEFA need to foster soccer in places such as Gibraltar by giving them money for development and then placing them in pre-qualifying groups.

Let Gibraltar (population 30,000) battle it out with the other ‘mini-minnows’, the likes of Faroe Islands (50,000), Liechtenstein (35,000), Andorra (85,500), and San Marino (33,000) for one place in the big qualifying tournaments, thereby giving them a realistic measure of progress and achievement.

Recently-appointed manager Jeff Wood will set his team up to frustrate the Irish, but delaying the inevitable defeat is their only ploy.

Online Editors

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