Is this the tackle that changed Trap’s mind about James McClean?
Published 21/02/2012 | 05:00
TEN days ago, James McClean was Ireland's future. Today, he can speak about international football in the present tense.
Giovanni Trapattoni controls the time machine, and yesterday's announcement that the Sunderland winger was being drafted into the squad for next Wednesday's friendly with the Czech Republic provides further evidence that the Ireland boss dances to his own beat.
When McClean's name was absent when the initial party was named in Waterford, Trapattoni said that the rising star would have to be patient. He had relayed the message to the player beforehand. "I said 'you come with us, but maybe not now. 100pc you will be with us in the future'."
Trapattoni then went on to point out that there was an abundance of options in that position, explaining Liam Lawrence's omission in the context that some of his strikers, namely Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox, can provide wide cover if necessary.
But that wasn't the end of it.
The Italian can be notoriously stubborn, yet he is still capable of throwing in the odd curve ball.
His conservatism usually revolves around a system rather than individuals. If he was averse to taking risks, then he wouldn't have thrown in Sean St Ledger for his competitive debut in the heat of Sofia, or selected Cox ahead of fan favourite Shane Long for June's World Cup qualifier in Macedonia.
Trapattoni wants to reward the players who booked Ireland's place at Euro 2012, yet that is essentially because they know the methodology which brought them there. Perhaps, just perhaps, he watched McClean in action against Arsenal on Saturday, and realised that a form player exists with the attributes to slot into his modus operandi.
That's the prism through which the 72-year-old's squad selections should be viewed. Paul Green was also drafted into the squad for the Czech game, a decision that was greeted with predictable levels of derision.
Where is Wes Hoolahan, people asked, as though Green was directly preferred to the Norwich trickster. The Derby man, who has fought back from a cruciate ligament injury, is included because he can adapt to what is wanted from the central midfielders in Ireland's 4-4-2. Hoolahan is a special talent, but palpably unsuited to that specific role. End of discussion.
McClean is a different story. He can fit into Trapattoni's plans without alteration to the formation being necessary. The 22-year-old arguably ticks more boxes than some of the existing squad regulars. In addition to reserves of energy, an understanding of the need to track back, and a direct approach, McClean offers height and is effective in the air. Trapattoni is obsessed with size.
Before the Euro 2012 qualifiers with Macedonia, he came into press conferences and listed the threat of the opposition players by referring to the measurements instead of the names.
Towards the end of the World Cup 2010 campaign, Lawrence was effectively favoured ahead of Aiden McGeady because of his physicality. McClean has proved that he is a handful with the attributes to trouble seasoned pros. On successive weekends, Bacary Sagna has found that the League of Ireland recruit has no fear.
Trapattoni must have noticed on Saturday. As Sunderland led by a goal going into the dying stages, the Derry lad threw his body on the line in the defensive effort.
But when the Black Cats broke as gaps appeared, McClean popped up at the other end to support the counter. Considering that Trapattoni's men in the engine room are encouraged to sit in front of the defensive line, the wide players are constantly on the go. McClean can offer that service as well as another presence in the box from set pieces -- the Irish boss could do with another of those.
So, opportunity knocks. But the widespread excitement at McClean's inclusion should be tempered by the fact that he is unlikely to play a huge part in the Czech match unless Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady or Stephen Hunt are carrying injuries.
The next stage of his progression is impressing on the training ground, and that's an important step. Until a player demonstrates in preparations that he has the aptitude for the specific task at hand, he will not get a chance.
Seamus Coleman took a while to get used to the manager's methods, and was left sitting as an unused sub when his family arrived en masse for his anticipated debut against Norway. After a few nervy days, the penny dropped for last June's friendly with Italy in Liege where he performed to orders.
If McClean is to force his way into the Euros picture, it could well be at the injury-hit Coleman's expense. It's difficult to see any of the other wide options disappearing from the picture.
Still, at least he's graduated to the discussion. Trapattoni said yesterday that it would be important for McClean to see how the camp operates, a statement that hints at the longer term.
"Marco (Tardelli) and I have decided to call up James McClean and Paul Green to take a closer look at them during training," he said. "James is performing very well for his club. We have invited them in for this game to spend time with the squad and get an idea of the team set-up."
But once he's there in the flesh, the tee-total, hard-working, modest lad is in a position to influence the manager.
It was a brave showing in atrocious conditions for Sunderland reserves that convinced Martin O'Neill he was ready for the big time when the man who signed him -- Steve Bruce -- was only thinking long-term. The sea breeze around Malahide tends to add the worst of the elements to Irish training sessions in Gannon Park so, next week, McClean may once more have to battle through adversity to change a perception.
The argument for his exclusion was compelling. Now, he can fight the case.