FAI lose out to England in battle for U-17 Arsenal starlet
The FAI have suffered a blow with the defection of talented Arsenal teenager Marcus Agyei-Tabi to England.
After representing Ireland at the U-17 European Championship finals last May, the 16-year-old has switched to his homeland and is set to make his debut against Germany tomorrow night.
The midfielder, who featured on last month's list of the 20 best young players in the Premier League in The Guardian, has already trained with the Gunners' first-team at the invitation of Arsene Wenger.
Last night, Ireland U-17 boss Tom Mohan admitted they were helpless to prevent Agyei-Tabi's departure.
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"The FAI did everything in our power to keep Marcus because we know what a talented player he is," he said about the playmaker who had declared for Ireland earlier this year through his grandparents who hail from Portlaoise, Limerick and Cork.
"England began to take an interest in him from the time he played for us against them at the European finals in the summer.
"Although I kept in touch with Marcus and his family after that, his mind was settled.
"There was no point in asking Martin O'Neill to speak with him because it wouldn't have changed anything.
"Of course, we're disappointed to lose him but another player took his place for the first phase of European qualifiers in September and we progressed to the elite phase early in the new year."
As the FAI have already signed FIFA's release form, Agyei-Tabi is now tied to England for the rest of his career.
The swiftness with which the English FA acted over the summer to entice the player illustrates the renewed approach they are adopting in the aftermath of the Jack Grealish saga.