John Giles: Liverpool are going places and Shane Long would be perfect for Jurgen Klopp
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SHANE Long is now one of the best strikers in the Premier League and it would be no surprise at all if he is one of the big transfer stories in the coming weeks and months.
I say that before admitting that I had almost given up hope that he would grow fully into his talents.
No more than a year ago, I remember thinking that Long had never delivered on the promise I saw when this big, raw-boned lad from Tipperary first appeared on our radar ten years ago.
I couldn’t put my finger on but a variety of managers seemed to agree.
He moved from Reading to West Brom who didn’t seem unhappy to bank a profit and sell him to Hull and Steve Bruce did the same.
I thought at the time that it was a good bit of business for Hull and not so much Southampton who had paid over £12m to get him.
That might seem a bit unfair to Long but to be honest, I just didn’t see it happening for him in the way I hoped it would when he first emerged at Reading.
In those early days, I saw a confident lad who had everything. Physique, pace and what seemed to be me to be a great hunger to succeed were all visible when he played but then something happened and he ran into a cul de sac.
He had Kevin Doyle ahead of him for a while but he moved to Wolves and left Long with a clear run and yet he still didn’t explode in the way I thought he would.
He seemed to be badly impacted by defeat in the 2011 promotion play-off final when Reading lost to Swansea but he got a move to West Brom and the Premier League in the August transfer window.
My hope was that he would really begin to shine on his return to the Premier League and even more so when Bruce brought him to Hull where he was surrounded by Irishmen.
Again, though, it didn’t happen for Long and I have to say, I was one among many who had written him off when Martin O’Neill took over as Ireland boss.
I think O’Neill had the same feelings about Long that Giovanni Trapattoni had and didn’t believe he was in a position to ease Robbie Keane out of his position as No.1 striker completely.
Even during the qualifying campaign for France, Long never cemented his position and Jon Walters’ emergence pushed him back down the queue. For all these reasons and a relatively uneventful first season at Southampton, it looked like he would continue as a fitful but inconsistent striker and always be a source of regret.
Ronald Koeman and Long himself had a different idea.
Long’s move to Southampton brought him under Koeman’s wing and I’m delighted to be able to say that the Dutchman has somehow found the right buttons to push.
I actually think that the biggest change I’ve seen is in terms of attitude. I think Long lost his way and lost his mojo.
How that happened, I can’t be sure but Long wouldn’t be the first to get a big deal and then relax thinking the hard work is done.
The hard work is never done and Long is now reaping the reward for this realisation.
What all this amounts to is the fact that Ireland will have one of the most dangerous and tricky attack partnerships in the finals of Euro 2016 if O’Neill pairs Long and Walters up front.
Both men have been in the form of their lives this season and while Walters is getting back up to speed after surgery, I think O’Neill need look now further than the two of them to lead the charge against Sweden.
In terms of Long’s club future, I think the sky is the limit.
I know there was some interest back in January from Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp and I think Long would be absolutely perfect for the German and his Anfield revolution.
Brendan Rodgers had Divock Origi and Christian Benteke in mind for the role Long now performs to perfection but Klopp seems to have a different plan.
Benteke looks like he will be moving on and that could open a door.
Liverpool are going places and it would be good to have an Irishman on board.