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Best days are still to come for Leon

IT WAS a case of Lost In Translation, Irish football style. But the message got across that Leon Best still has a future with the Republic of Ireland and that he has not been forgotten by his manager.

The 24-year-old was on the verge of becoming one of The Forgotten, as Best has yet to play a single game for his club, Newcastle United, this season and he's also been ruled out of the squad for the last three Ireland games, Best forced out of action due to an ankle injury.

The player has his doubters, many of them on Tyneside, but Giovanni Trapattoni clearly likes the cut of Best as the Ireland boss has capped the forward seven times, with four appearances in the World Cup qualifying campaign, in contrast with fellow strikers like Shane Long or Anthony Stokes, who didn't play a single minute in the last campaign.



Boost

So Best says it was a major boost to his morale when Trapattoni called him up recently to check on his progress in his injury battle, though it didn't all go according to plan.

"I think it was about two weeks ago, I got a phone call and it was Mr Trapattoni," Best told the Herald. "But with my heavy accent, his accent, my Italian and his English we had no idea what we were saying, he couldn't understand me and I couldn't hear him. Luckily, Marco Tardelli was there too, so the manager passed the phone to Marco and Marco had a chat with me.

"They just wanted to know how I was getting on and when I would be back, so that was great for me to hear. Then I saw some stuff in the papers last week when Mr Trapattoni announced the squad for the Russia and Slovakia games and he mentioned me as well, so it was nice to know that I haven't been forgotten.

"I have really enjoyed the games I played for Ireland so far. I am keen to get more caps, so the fact that the manager is still keeping an eye on me is good news."

"Obviously I didn't make the squad for the qualifiers next month as I am only coming back from an injury but I know there's a friendly in Dublin with Norway in November so that's my target now. I want to get back in there and show what I can do.



Disrupted

"The team have had a good start to the qualifiers with the two wins and I want to be part of it," added Best, who played as sub in the home leg of the World Cup play-off defeat to France last year.

The better news for former Southampton and Coventry man Best is that he is on his way back from the injury which disrupted his season.

"I have been back in training this week and I was in the squad for the Chelsea game in the Carling Cup on Wednesday. I didn't make the team or the bench but it was still good to be involved after all this time out," says Best.

"Pre-season had gone really well for me, I was in the team, playing well and I scored in some of the games. But I picked up an ankle injury in training a few days before the first game of the league season, against Manchester United, and that was a big blow.



Relief

"At first they thought the injury was minor and I'd only be out for a few days. Then it looked more serious and it was mentioned that I'd be out for three or four months. But I worked hard to get back fit and now I am nearly there. I had four days of full training with the first team this week, and while I might not make the squad for the Stoke game on Sunday, I am close and that's a big relief.

"I had ruptured ligaments in the ankle. They have healed now, so I just need to work on making the ankle stronger and getting myself fit."

The Nottingham-born, Dublin-raised striker only joined Newcastle from Coventry midway through last season and while he had his fans at Coventry, he found there was more pressure at St James' Park. Thirteen games without a goal for Newcastle last season didn't help his cause but Chris Hughton is said to retain his faith in the man who played GAA for Drimnagh Castle.

It was suggested this week that Hughton would allow Best to leave on loan to allow him work on his match fitness following the injury but the Ireland man is eager to stay.

"I want to stay here and do well for Newcastle, I joined here on a long-term deal and I want to make it work. I feel that I have a future here at Newcastle. I came here to help the team get promoted last season and we did that. Now I want to play in the Premier League.

"Hopefully, I can get some reserve games in the next week or two, show the manager what I can do and work my way into the team."


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