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Oba' and out for now

New boss Kenny can't find place in squad for Saints striker miffed over omission


HARD CHOICES: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

HARD CHOICES: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

HARD CHOICES: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Stephen Kenny might just have landed the position of Ireland manager at the best possible time.

But there will be headaches that accompany the inheritance of a promising generation and Michael Obafemi delivered a timely reminder of that yesterday.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the Southampton attacker tweeted 'Intresting' (sic) in the minutes after Kenny's first squad as senior boss was named.

An earlier one word message - 'Disgrace' - was promptly deleted and replaced by that version.

Whatever the intention, it prompted a discussion around Kenny's decision to leave the 20-year-old out of his panel.

On the face of it, it's easy to see why Obafemi might be aggrieved. He played and scored at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford last season, and can therefore say he's made more of an impact at top flight level than Adam Idah and Troy Parrott and operated at a similar enough level to Aaron Connolly. They all made the squad for the double header with Bulgaria and Finland, whereas he missed out.

But there's a difference between expressing private frustration and inviting public scrutiny. It was always going to become a story, especially with Kenny starting his press conference around that time.

He delivered a clear enough explanation about the tactical reasons for his call. Kenny is going to operate with a three man frontline in what will either be a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 depending on the game. Idah is viewed as a central option in that system.

James McClean, Callum O'Dowda and Callum Robinson were listed as attackers because they will be vying for wide roles within that. Chances are that Aaron Connolly will be in that equation too. Parrott actually only made the final squad because David McGoldrick misses out on Sofia with Kenny explaining that the Millwall loanee has a similar skillset to the Sheffield United player.

"If you are leaving someone like David out, the player that we have with the closest characteristics to him is actually Troy," he said.

"What Troy likes to do is to be the focal point of the attacks and take the ball into his chest and into his feet. He likes to utilise the players around him and then he is exceptional in the box.

"So Troy is not one for running the channels all day, he is the one to get it into feet and who can look after the ball, protects it and has good vision and good link up play. He likes to come right into midfield, that's how they've schooled him. That's like Harry Kane at Spurs where Harry comes right into midfield and players run in behind him."

Wide option

Obafemi, in his view, has work to do to show he could operate as a wide option in a front three and definitely wouldn't be suited to the number nine role.

"I think Michael is used to playing in a front two," said Kenny. "If we play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 it's a different position as a central, lone striker. He has played wide with Southampton on occasion, he's still learning that one."

In other words, it's a football decision. Observers of Kenny's U-21 side wouldn't be hugely surprised if Obafemi was a sub when all of the other options were available, although he missed quite a few gatherings due to injury problems.

The manager's decision to go with a tighter final squad of 23/24, a strategy which has hardened due to Covid-19 restrictions, means that he had to disappoint a few people in his maiden announcement.

Kevin Long, Jack Byrne, Glenn Whelan, Josh Cullen, Seani Maguire, Ronan Curtis and others will have been feeling the pain of the rejection too. Obafemi's club colleague Will Smallbone might also have put his hand up for inclusion too. Kenny hopes that the duo will make an impact at U-21 level under Jim Crawford.

The reality of his current position now is that he has to deal with social media storms, even if Obafemi's somewhat cryptic contribution was more of an unusual wind than anything. Ralph Hassenhuttl has been hailed as a positive influence on the 20-year-old yet he has also made veiled comments about the player's attitude.

He's growing up in a high profile world so there will always be mistakes. The strongest response to the exclusion would be a flying start to the campaign for Southampton that puts the ball back in Kenny's court.

The simple reality going forward - pardon the pun - is that four (Idah, Obafemi, Connolly and Parrott) won't go into one or maybe two or three spots depending on the game and there's still McGoldrick, Shane Long and Callum Robinson in the equation. There will always be unhappiness and Kenny's reaction to any dissent will come under scrutiny.

He was also asked yesterday about weekend comments from Jason McAteer that appeared to be moreso rooted in the ex-international's issues with Brian Kerr, with the Liverpudlian speculating over how dressing room members might look at Kenny given his League of Ireland background. This did not quite take into account the background of influential members of today's group compared to the 2003 vintage.

The point was put to Kenny who praised McAteer for the quality of his Ireland career but pointedly referenced that his criticism of Kerr's 'basic training' went beyond the Dubliner.

"I've great respect for Brian Kerr and Chris Hughton," said Kenny. "Brian and Chris would have taken the training sessions and he was criticizing Brian and Chris's training sessions. I've great respect for both of them. But it's not relevant. We're in a high-performance, modern coaching environment now."

If Kenny can live up to those words and deliver results, the team selection squabbles will be a footnote rather than a headline.