independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Doyle must be selfish to salvage career at top level

DEAN SAUNDERS will settle into his new job as Wolves manager today and, in an ideal Irish world, a knock on the door from Kevin Doyle would bring about his first major decision.

Twelve months have passed since Doyle believed that a transfer window move to Everton was a distinct possibility but that ship sailed by, with the pain intensified as Wolves sunk in the months that followed.

The Midlanders now sit closer to the Championship relegation zone than the promotion play-off places and while Saunders hit all the right notes yesterday and spoke of making a dramatic charge for the Premier League, the reality is that he has inherited a job where serious rebuilding is required.

It is the perfect opportunity for Doyle to raise his hand and make a push for the exit door. At this stage, it is a move with the potential to suit both club and player.

All the evidence points towards a man stuck in a rut and in need of a fresh challenge.

A return of five goals from 27 club appearances this term makes for unpleasant reading, but there is still enough respect for his football intelligence and work ethic to attract attention from a higher plain. Norwich were linked with a move earlier this month, and David Moyes remains an admirer. Everton's name cropped up again last summer, yet the fear is that January 2012 presented the real opportunity to make that Goodison Park switch happen.

Sporadically, Doyle has popped up to show that he is still a very capable performer. His late cameo in Kazakhstan, with a driving run to create the equaliser followed by a stunning winner, was the most positive contribution from a green-shirted Irish player last year. And, in Poland, Doyle was arguably hard done by, doing better against Croatia and Italy than his strike partner Robbie Keane, to name just one.

Contrast

As it stands, however, the case for Jonathan Walters and his good pal Shane Long is far stronger given their Premier League status. Indeed, the rise and rise of Long is a contrast to Doyle's current standing.

They arrived to England together from Cork City, with Long a bonus signing for Reading in a deal that was driven by their admiration for Doyle. Time has tipped the balance in favour of the Tipp man.

This January, he is a man in demand, with Newcastle and Lazio amongst those weighing up a move, even though some wise heads have advised Long to stay put and appreciate his current standing at a West Brom, who still harbour European ambitions and represent a safer bet than Newcastle at this juncture.

Former Cork City manager Pat Dolan is a good friend to both strikers, and is a key advisor when it comes to their transfer movements. While Long might be the flavour of the month, it is Doyle who is due a shove from the people around him.

He is aware of the perception that he should be doing better. Another ex-Cork City man, George O'Callaghan, is trying his hand in the media world and invited his old mates onto new website fecktv.com before Christmas for a 20-minute Skype grilling that mixed football chat with banter. O'Callaghan rarely bites his tongue and, as a pal, has demonstrated an ability to get away with questions that could be met with a sharp rebuke if delivered from a stranger.

Doyle could only laugh as his old team-mate simply asked, "Why are you playing for Wolves? Why are you in the Championship?"

"I'm not playing in the Premier League because I got relegated," Doyle, replied. "To be fair, if I really wanted to go, you have options, a lot of the teams you think, Jesus, I'll be in the same situation. Just battling to avoid relegation."

This touches on a point he made in the summer, the assertion that three years living on the edge at Molineux had taken the enjoyment from his profession. The plan was to rebuild the confidence by lining out for a team that are regularly winning matches and scoring goals. Wolves kicked off life in the second tier in that manner before their form plummeted under Stale Solbakken, descending to a position where they are just six points ahead of the trap door.

The logic of Doyle's argument is obsolete if the net result is another season in the Championship. He turns 30 later this year, and is in danger of celebrating it at the same level where he arrived into English football back into 2005. When O'Callaghan accused his mate of selling himself short by accepting where he stands, the Wexford man responded, "I don't know... it's not me. I don't sign me. I've had chances to go to some big clubs and, for whatever reason, it hasn't worked out. Just because someone wants to sign you, it doesn't mean you end up there," he added, perhaps a reference to the Everton experience and other sliding door experiences along the way.

How much would it take to secure his services? Therein lies a complication. With over two years left on a contract worth in the region of £30,000 a week, Doyle is on a Premier League contract.

Naturally, he would look for that salary to be matched if he moved on, with the selling club left to decide what kind of fee they would request.

Parachute payments of £16m softened the blow of leaving the big bucks world of the Premier League behind, while the sales of Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Michael Kightly also helped to balance the books and cope with the estimated £30m drop in income from a top flight existence. The performances on the pitch this term have reduced the stock of those who remained and Doyle may not find as much resistance if he tries to depart this January.

The arrival of Saunders presents an opening that Doyle's representatives should seize upon. Solbakken believed that the front man lacked selfishness on the pitch.

His future revolves around taking that advice and applying it to life off it. Certainly, he needs a move far more than Long does.

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