Sport Soccer

Friday 20 April 2018

Brady fears for Ireland's future

Liam Brady, Arsenal's head of youth development, speaking after a Platinum One Challenge press conference ahead of his side's game against Manchester United reseves at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
Liam Brady, Arsenal's head of youth development, speaking after a Platinum One Challenge press conference ahead of his side's game against Manchester United reseves at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

LIAM BRADY has no concerns about Giovanni Trapattoni's long-term future, but he is less convinced about the health of the Irish team once today's crown jewels are forced to hang up their boots.

Arsenal's Academy Director, who served as assistant to Trapattoni during the ill-fated World Cup qualifying campaign before returning full-time to his day job, visited the Italian in hospital last week after he was struck down by a stomach problem.

Yet he doesn't believe that the scare will have any impact whatsoever on a man who he compares to Bill Shankly in terms of his enthusiasm and desire to remain in the game.

Instead, the real problem he sees on the horizon for Irish football is the battle to replace figureheads like Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Richard Dunne, who have no natural heirs apparent.

He is sure that Trapattoni will still be involved in management somewhere, be it with Ireland or in pastures new, when those players move on, brushing off any suggestion that the week-long stint in hospital could affect the 71-year-old's priorities.

"I went into to see him the day after his operation," said Brady yesterday, "and I could tell he was on the road to recovery. He's remarkable.


"I've said before there's a bit of Shankly about him, definitely a bit of Bill Shankly about him. Age is no barrier. When we all push on a bit in age, we think, 'I wouldn't mind getting out playing golf today' or just waking up and doing nothing.

"But he's not that kind of man and nor was Shankly. He wants to be working in football."

He admits that Trapattoni's pride in his appearance is part of what makes him so employable for a man his age, in the sense that he maintains a level of physical fitness that sometimes embarrasses those around him who are younger, but look far older. It makes a point about his application.

"What did he say to me before?" mused Brady. "It was something along the lines of, 'Don't ever get photographed looking old. Always be looking your best because it makes an impression on people and what they think'. He has that about him.

"Everybody I meet say he looks well for his age. And he knows that and he wants to keep it that way. What was his line? 'I'm not dead'.

"He wants to go for ever and ever. He will know if he is not well enough, or doesn't feel strong, but I think he will work in football until it is all over -- everything is all over!"

Brady has warned Ireland against the perils of the complacency in the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers, pointing out that Russia and Slovakia pose a real test, contrary to the perception that Trapattoni has somehow landed an easy group.

The key, he stresses, is the well-being of the star players who Ireland cannot afford to lose to injury or suspensions along the road to Poland and Ukraine. And that's before you consider what happens when time catches up on them.

"There are concerns about Robbie Keane (30) getting that bit older, Richard (Dunne, 30) that bit older, Damien (Duff, 31) that bit older. They won't be glad for me to be saying that, but it would be in my mind," he observed.

"They are huge players for Ireland and were in the last campaign. Duff, for example, is someone that Trapattoni has helped bounce back in his career. Richard was outstanding and Robbie got the goals when he needed to come up with them. They are not going to go on forever and Robbie said that himself. The obvious replacements aren't around. We have a very good squad to make a real fist of qualifying for this one. But beyond that, I think we have to come up with a few players."

Which brings us nicely onto his gig with Arsenal, and his assessment of what is actually coming through the ranks. Visitors to Tallaght this evening will see the depth of talent in the Gunners and Manchester United ranks when their respective reserve teams take to the field, but the range of nationalities emphasises how difficult it is for emerging stars from this part of the world to break through.

He has yet to achieve the ambition of bringing a youngster over from Ireland, and watching them move up the ranks into the first-team. Genuinely, he believed that Anthony Stokes would be the one. A lot of people did.

The 21-year-old now plies his trade in the SPL with Hibernian after failing to make the grade with both Arsenal and Sunderland.

Still, Brady watched him in majestic form for the Irish U-21s last week, and clings onto the hope that he can one day make it back -- even though Marco Tardelli last week hinted that the Dubliners' desire to be a showman rather than a team player has stunted his progress internationally.

"He might come back that kid, you know," suggested Brady, "I know he's playing at Hibs and it's a level a long way below Arsenal. But he's young only still.

"Yes, Anthony always had that kind of 'look at me' type of thing. It might make him hold onto the ball a little bit longer than he should have done, and that's what Marco means. Probably that went against him with Roy Keane at Sunderland. That's probably why he didn't figure too much. I still haven't given up on him being a big player."

The search for the X-Factor is something that is obsessing the English FA as well in the wake of their World Cup failure. New quotas in the Premier League, insisting that there should be eight homegrown players in a senior squad of 25, are designed to aid the progress of youngsters.


Yet Brady believes the English FA are missing the point completely, hinting that it smacks of tokenism rather than actually fostering a genuine development of players from their baby steps in the game. It's something he feels that the FAI should pay heed to as well.

"I think they are missing a trick in England," he said. "They want English players playing much more in the Premier League, but if the players haven't got the ability, I don't think Ferguson, Hodgson, Wenger and Mancini are going to pick them.

"They have to develop better players, and they should go about it at young ages. I'm going to a tournament in Holland at the end of the month and all the teams will be playing in a measured way, a technical game. If you watch that game in Ireland or England the fellows would be screaming at them to kick the ball down and get stuck in. In England that's what they have got to change.

"I told this to John Delaney as well. He needs to be going around or people need to be going around to all the young clubs in Ireland representing the FAI and saying let's teach the kids in a different way.

"Don't put the emphasis on size or winning and kicking the ball long so the other team makes a mistake or the centre-forward's big and he's going to knock them over. You can't obligate people to do that but you can persuade them and I think that's needed."

The future depends on it.

Irish Independent

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