Steven Reid: Attitude can often trump talent when picking squad for major tournaments
Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30
Things appear simple but they're not. Some players seem obvious candidates to travel to France; others seem obvious ones to be left behind. Yet when it comes to selecting 23-man squads for major tournaments, there is much more than a player's ability that managers have to consider.
If that seems a stupid statement to make, then cast your mind back to the performances by the French national side in the 2002 and 2010 World Cups.
And if their non-performances don't trigger a red warning light to go off flashing in your head, then think back to Euro 96 and the Dutch team, backboned by Ajax's Champions League winning side from 1995, falling out with each other in England.
And while you're at it, cast your mind back further, still, to Italia 90. Remember that?
Some of us can never forget it; the image that sticks in my mind isn't just David O'Leary sticking that penalty away against Romania in Genoa, but the reaction of the Irish bench invading the pitch after the shoot-out was won.
That, to me, summed up the spirit in that particular group. All for one; one for all.
And it was something I experienced myself in 2002. We spent six weeks away and while I was one of the lucky ones to get game-time, there were others there who didn't see a minute's action.
And you could tell it hurt them. Yet, just as significantly, they reacted in the right way.
Alan Kelly was a big part of driving team morale; so too Dean Kiely. They, along with other older pros, would organise team days out.
And then there were guys like Richard Dunne and Andy O'Brien, who never got a chance to play, but who were the first ones over to you in the dressing-room when a match was over, patting you on the back, saying well done. And they meant it.
What we realised then, and what this Irish team has to realise now, is that your ego has to stay at home when you travel abroad.
It can't be about you; it has to be about the bigger picture. These players have the chance to make a little bit of history here, a chance which they may never get again.
They're lucky men. Weeks like this, building up to the biggest tournament of the year, bring memories flooding back to me.
The highlights of my career were in a green shirt, the absolute pinnacle coming against Germany, when Robbie Keane scored that late equaliser.
Even yesterday, 14 years on, when I thought about this, I went back into a room in my house and looked at the picture from that game of the entire squad lined up, one by one, linking arms, to salute the Irish crowd.
So that's what is at stake for these lads, the chance to be a part of something special, to create a memory that will stay with them, and with Irish fans, forever.
With this in mind, then, the squad I have picked for Euro 2016 comes with terms and conditions attached.
Those who go must travel with the attitude of the Kielys and the Kellys from 2002, not the dysfunctional egocentric attitude of the Dutch in 96 or the French in 2010.
If selected, they have to perform to the best of their ability. And if they're on the bench, they have to be supportive, have to accept the manager's decision and support the guy who has been picked.
And if this seems an idealistic, dreamy approach, then bear the following in mind.
I've seen it work before. Not just with Ireland but with Burnley, a club with a small budget, but a club whose manager Sean Dyche has created a culture where every player buys into the policy that 'we're all in it together'. That's why they've had three great years.
Tom Heaton became Burnley's first England international on Friday and deservedly so. He's a great goalkeeper.
I spoke to him yesterday and asked him which goalkeepers have impressed him in the Championship this season. "Keiren Westwood," he said, as well as two others.
That's why Westwood is in my squad. He has been excellent all season, had another great game for Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday in the play-off final, even though they lost.
Crucially, he has played much more football this season than David Forde, his rival for a place on the plane.
However, as I've already mentioned, if Westwood is lucky enough to travel, he has to accept that, if O'Neill stays loyal to Darren Randolph, his job becomes supportive.
In the past, Westwood withdrew from a number of Ireland squads.
If he really wants to be there - to be a part of the bigger picture - then it is clear to me that he should be selected. However, if the manager has any doubts about this issue, he should go with Forde.
In defence, I've left out Cyrus Christie, who is a fine player, but who, realistically, is not going to get in ahead of Coleman.
Given that Shane Duffy, John O'Shea and David Meyler can double up as emergency right-backs, bringing two specialist right-backs is a luxury, whereas the inclusion of Ward and Brady comes with the condition that the latter may be relocated to left wing for some matches.
Similarly, in midfield, versatility counts. Meyler can do a job in a number of positions - on the right side of a diamond formation, in the middle; when I think back to my own career, my versatility was a big factor in getting me key transfers and keeping me involved at the top level for as long as I did.
Plus, that point I made - about having bubbly lads in the dressing-room - is reinforced by Meyler and also Stephen Quinn, who I have selected ahead of Harry Arter.
Having coached Quinn at Reading this year, I have seen his attitude in and around the group.
When he is dropped, he is ultra-positive, slapping fellas on the back before they go out to play, vocally encouraging those around him. When he is half-fit, he makes himself available.
He is the epitome of what a manager wants: the perfect pro.
Darron Gibson misses out - which is a tough call given how talented he is. But he has rarely played this season. If he had have featured more, I'd have had him in the team, never mind the squad.
Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady, James McClean also get the nod. And that brings us to James McCarthy who has a calf injury and may not be 100pc.
He travels. End of story.
For me the only debate in the forwards surrounds Kevin Doyle or David McGoldrick.
Whoever is picked is unlikely to see much game-time - so it comes down, again, to what that player can offer the group. McGoldrick is a decent lad - no question about that - but Doyle has captained Ireland in the past and his experience and positivity cannot be underestimated.
Nor, if this squad is picked, should Ireland be at the Euros.
My squad for Euros
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph, Shay Given, Keiren Westwood
Defenders: John O'Shea, Shane Duffy, Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, Richard Keogh, Robbie Brady, Stephen Ward
Midfielders: Glenn Whelan, James McClean, Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler, Stephen Quinn, Wes Hoolahan, James McCarthy, Aiden McGeady
Strikers: Robbie Keane, Jon Walters, Daryl Murphy, Shane Long, Kevin Doyle