John Aldridge: 'Shane Long needs a move away from Southampton to save his Ireland career'
Shane Long was viewed as the natural successor to Robbie Keane as Ireland’s lead striker for many a year, but his international career is in danger of fizzling out, just as his club career has done in recent years.
Mick McCarthy’s decision to leave Long out of his final squad for tomorrow’s vital Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland at the Aviva Stadium was a moment that has been coming for some time and now Shane has to decide what he wants to do next.
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The new Ireland management set-up has made it clear that they are keen to pick players who are playing regularly for their clubs and with Shane very much a bit-part player at Southampton now, he may not get back onto the international fold if he stays at his current club.
The statistic that confirmed Long has scored just 25 goals in the last SIX seasons makes for pretty miserable reading and he has not scored for Ireland since 2016, with players like David McGoldrick, Callum Robinson and even Luton’s James Collins ahead of him in the Ireland pecking order.
We all know what Shane is capable of when he is at his best and I have always been a big fan of a player whose energy and desire has never been in question.
Long will run himself into the ground for his team and as I can confirm from personal experience, playing in that lone striker’s role for Ireland is not a lot of fun when the service coming your way is limited.
I remember watching Shane scoring a winner for Southampton in a League Cup semi-final at Anfield back in 2017 and he was a real menace that night, stretching the Liverpool defence and finally scoring the goal that sent his side to Wembley.
All Ireland fans will never forget his incredible strike against Germany in that famous European Championship qualifying win in 2015 and there have been other great moments for a kid who has forged a lucrative career for himself in England.
Yet at the age of 32, Long is now at a crossroads and if he is not going to play regular football with Southampton, I’d like to see him take the plunge and step away from the Premier League in the next transfer window.
Maybe try playing abroad in a bid to kick-start his career – or he could look to dip down in the Championship because if he starts scoring goals again and rediscovers his confidence, he could still have plenty to offer Ireland.
Our problem, for as long as any of us can remember, has been scoring goals and it would be great to see Shane coming back to form and returning to the international scene if we can get through to the Euro finals next year.
We can take a huge step towards that target tomorrow night, with Switzerland a tricky opponent who have put together some good results.
It will need a solid clean sheet from Ireland first and foremost and then we need to make the most of the chances we create or try to get something moving from a set-piece, as they have always been an effective route for us to score goals.
Having ten points on the board from the first four qualifiers gives us a great platform to build on and it is great to see a little bit of optimism returning to the Ireland squad and our fans after a difficult period for the national team.
Mick is a shrewd manager with plenty of experience and he is a safe pair of hands to steer the Irish ship at a time when we have some promising young players coming through the ranks and hopefully bolstering our attacking options in the near future.
We are all hearing great things about young Troy Parrott at Totten ham and it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next couple of years, but the immediate priority has to be this game against the Swiss in front of what I hope will be a bumper crowd at the Aviva Stadium.
The old Lansdowne Road used to rock on international nights and it played a part of driving us forward to some memorable victories, so let’s get some of that spirit back for a night that could open the door to another major tournament.