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Best: I have earned my chance for Ireland

HE'S OUR only player appearing regularly for a club in the top six of the English Premier League and he's scored more Premier league goals than any other Irishman this season bar Shane Long, but he's not good enough to get into the Republic of Ireland squad.

Confused? So is the man in question, Leon Best, who can't understand why his form with Newcastle has not been rewarded with a place in the Ireland set-up, no room for him even in an expanded 27-man squad for the recent games against Andorra and Armenia.

Logic and Giovanni Trapattoni don't always mix, like trying to explain why Stephen Ward isn't worthy of a spot in a 33-man panel for a friendly against Norway and is then good enough to start in defence in a European Championship qualifier away to Russia, or why Trapattoni said recently that he was "following" Lee Carsley, a player who retired six months ago.

Trapattoni's barbed comments about Irish players has seen him cross swords with club managers like Sam Allardyce (regarding Steven Reid), Alex Ferguson (Darron Gibson) and Roberto Martinez (James McCarthy), and only last week Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was forced to come out and defend Best following a charge by Trapattoni that the Newcastle player had been left out of his squad because he did not work hard enough.

Words that disappointed and confused Best, who has been capped seven times at senior level but has not even featured in a squad since he was an unused sub against Paraguay 17 months ago.

"It was very disappointing not to be picked by Ireland all that time, you should be picked on the basis of performance, in my view," he told the Herald, Best is now about to become a more important player for Ireland ahead of the Euro 2012 play-off with Estonia due to Shane Long's injury.

"I was playing well and in the Premier League too, so it was a shock to me and was a bit weird when I wasn't picked.

"It confuses me that I was always in the squads and getting caps when I was at Coventry City, a lower team in a lower league, and now I am playing every week for Newcastle, playing well and scoring goals and I can't get into the Irish squad. It did make me think. I wondered why, I couldn't understand what was needed.

"A lot of Irish fans have come over to Newcastle to see the games and every time I see them they say they can't understand why I'm not in the squad and they want to see me back in the set-up, so I'm delighted when I hear things like that and know that I'm not forgotten."

It was that accusation that Best didn't work hard which bugged him. "I base my game a lot on working hard for the team, and Alan Pardew is definitely pleased with my work-rate. My stats prove that my work-rate is very good," Best says. "Obviously I can only work harder and it did hit me when the manager said my work rate was the problem, but if he's saying that he must be watching the games and thinks I need to work harder.

"Different players do different things. Shane Long can maybe run for a lot longer in a game than me, but he's built different from me. My stats show that I am working as hard as I can on a game by game basis, and Alan Pardew knows that.

"If Mr Trapattoni is comparing me to players who don't stop running in a game, then that's his call.

"I am playing well and scoring goals, me and Shane are on the same amount in terms of Premier League goals.

"Goals win games and while working hard for the team helps, you can only run as hard as your body will let you."

What emerges from the Best situation is the lack of contact between the Irish management team and the players, especially those who are on the fringes.

"It didn't hurt me, what he said," Best claims. "But he said in the papers that 'Leon knows why he's not in the squad, I've spoken to him'. I haven't spoken to Trapattoni, I haven't spoken to anyone or heard anything so that did shock me.

"My last contact with the FAI was the time of the Paraguay game (May 2010), a few days before I went in for my operation, which is a long time ago.

"I just need to get that call from the FAI, if there's anything I need to change or work on, I need to be told that. Even if the manager rings me and tells me I'm not worthy of a place in the squad because there are things I need to work on, then that's fine, we can sit down and work on it.

"But there has been no contact, nothing.

"This is how long it's been since I heard from the FAI. I texted (former FAI international affairs officer) Pat Costello, asking him if he knew why I wasn't in the squads or if he knew if I'd done something wrong but he texted me back and said he didn't work for the FAI any more, so it's been a long time.

"I can bring something to the squad. We are all different strikers but I feel I can score goals and win games. We're in a play-off now and we need to win matches, so I think I can add something. I am feeling confident, playing well for a successful team in the best league in the world, so that can only help Ireland."

Ireland have played 20 games since Best's last cap and he admits he has found it hard to be a spectator.

"I have watched some of the games but I don't like to watch a game where I know I had a chance of playing," he says.

"I'd rather not watch it and then just hear later that they've won the game, it's frustrating to watch knowing that you could be there."

Yet he does predict that the Irish side can do well against Estonia. "Ireland are favourites and that's something we have to deal with," he added. "But I think people realise that it will be a tough battle against Estonia. If we go in with the right frame of mind and try to win the game we should be ok."