Friday 20 October 2017

Giles backs Irish battlers to dig out qualifiers double

Republic legend believes the need to beat Moldova and Wales eliminates fear factor in Ireland's make-or-break group games

Johnny Giles talking tactics with six-year-old Luke Freeman from Artane and four-year-old Lucy O’Toole from Swords after launching the Specsavers Grandparent of the Year award. Photo: MORGAN TREACY/INPHO
Johnny Giles talking tactics with six-year-old Luke Freeman from Artane and four-year-old Lucy O’Toole from Swords after launching the Specsavers Grandparent of the Year award. Photo: MORGAN TREACY/INPHO
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

John Giles, the quintessential football man, played with and against some of the greatest footballers in history.

Those he didn't meet on the pitch, he has watched during a lifetime in the game, including 31 years as a pundit with RTé.

And when it comes to Wales, Giles believes that the late, great John Charles would be worth mega-millions if he was playing in the modern era.

Charles, known as 'the Gentle Giant', was a legend at Leeds United pre-Giles, and a hero to Juventus fans for his star quality and performances from 1957-'62.

His level of performance brought renewed attention on the then Football League by Italian scouts, and in the early Sixties, Jimmy Greaves, Joe Baker, and Denis Law were snapped up by Italian clubs.

Of that quartet, only the Welshman stayed the course in the stifling days when the blanket-defence 'catenaccio' style became embedded in the Italian football psyche.

Giles is not a huge fan of ranking the merits of players from different eras but, if pressed, he would put Charles ahead of Barcelona's Neymar - and then some.

Mobbed

"If Neymar is worth €200 million, John Charles would be worth €250 million. He was that good.

"He scored 40-odd goals for Leeds in a mediocre team before he went to Italy. Because of his size, he was aggressive.

"He didn't intend to be aggressive but, when he went for the ball, he could only see the ball. If there was a fella in his way, Charles wouldn't be pushed off it.

"They loved him in Juventus. He'd be mobbed if he was in the streets of Turin even 30 years after he finished playing. They loved him over there," said Giles.

Gareth Bale, the current Wales talisman, gets respect but no accolade to match Giles' opinion of Charles.

The former Republic of Ireland player-manager feels that Bale's absence from next Monday's clash in Cardiff is an advantage to the Republic team. But, even if he had been fit to play, Giles reckons the Irish could cope.

"I got into a bit of trouble about this last time, but I don't think Bale is a world-class player.

"He's a terrific player in what he does, and he can be dynamic, but he's not a footballer in terms of linking it up. I'm not running him down, because he's a terrific player, but he wouldn't be in the same class as John Charles.

"Not many would. John Charles was an unbelievable player," he said.

From the past to the immediate future, and Giles looks first to the job of getting past Moldova at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night before going to Cardiff.

"Anything can happen. You can never predict what will happen in football. Take it on its merits. We've got to play Moldova. I'm sure Martin will be saying to the players, 'Look, forget about Wales, we've got to do what needs to be done against Moldova first'.

"What's happening in the supporters' minds is that Moldova is a walkover, but Martin will not be thinking like that," he said.

Two matches, two victories needed to give the Irish a shot at a play-off spot.

"I think it's possible. If you look at our record, we were at our best when we had to win. It is possible.

"We were at our best when we had to win. Look at the examples, like back in 2009 under Giovanni Trapattoni when we had to beat France in Paris.

"We hadn't played like that before. When you have to win, it eliminates the fear. I think you'll see a different mindset from the Irish players."

In weeks such as this, particularly at the climax of a qualifying group, inevitably the manager comes under increased scrutiny. Martin O'Neill's tenure has brought the Irish to Euro 2016 and neither he nor the players will concede defeat in the race to Russia 2018 until it is mathematically impossible.

That said, pressure comes with the job. "I think all managers are under pressure," said Giles.

"If you look in England now, (Arsene) Wenger was under severe pressure, (Jurgen) Klopp is coming under pressure. (Pep) Guardiola, there were doubts about him at one stage last season. (Ronald) Koeman is under severe pressure after six matches; Frank de Boer is gone from Crystal Palace after four matches.

"There's more pressure on managers than ever before. Martin is no exception, but I think Martin has credit in the bank.

"There's no talk from anybody that, if we don't qualify, he's going to be sacked."

Irish Independent

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