Sport Soccer

Sunday 19 November 2017

Drawing a line under the betrayal of Montecatini

Kevin Foley breaks silence on shock cull from Trap's Euros squad as he bids to 'put it to bed' and rebuild injury-hit career

Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Kevin Foley with his son Lennon
Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Kevin Foley with his son Lennon
Kevin Foley takes off his shirt off at the end of the game against a Tuscan selection in a friendly on May 29, 2012 - the last time he wore the green jersey
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When Kevin Foley's Kerry cousins started messaging his Dromid-born mother Kathleen to enquire about her son's whereabouts, he realised it was about time he broke a self-imposed silence.

"They've been wondering what's happened," he chuckles. "They're texting my mum and saying 'Where's Kev? Has he disappeared?'"

The forgotten man of Irish football knows that his natural aversion to fuss strengthened his claims to that title.

Others might have profited from the hullabaloo that surrounded his last-minute ejection from Giovanni Trapattoni's Euro 2012 squad, but Foley's gut instinct was to go to ground and turn down a steady stream of interview requests for almost two years. A torrid run of injuries in a turbulent period for Wolverhampton Wanderers aided the disappearing act.

He doesn't want to be remembered for the controversial dumping that cast a shadow over Ireland's pre-tournament training camp in Montecatini but, as he sat down in a Birmingham hotel last week, he pragmatically conceded that broaching the topic is his best chance of being allowed to move on.

The second anniversary is almost upon us. Foley will never forget the date because his son Lennon was born on May 10, 2012, a week before Daddy packed his bags to link up with the rest of the 23-man squad for the finals.

Trapattoni had announced his squad early as, ironically enough, he believed that bringing a larger group and then sending players home would damage morale. That's why Foley was mistakenly certain that a full recovery from a hamstring complaint ahead of the Italian leg ensured his ticket to a career highlight in Poland.

"I just want to do this once and let people know – if they're interested or not – about what happened," he says. "Now's the time to put it to bed."

* * *

IT actually started in bed. His first memories of that Tuesday morning in the Grand Hotel La Pace are of being woken by the sound of muffled voices and the door opening to the room he was sharing with Keiren Westwood. "I thought I was having a nightmare," he says, before cracking a smile. "And then it turned into one."

The unexpected intruders were high-profile. A call from Trap had failed to wake him, so the FAI's security guard Tony Hickey used the master-key to let the Italian and his assistant Marco Tardelli in. With a match against a local Tuscan select that evening, the occupants had slept late and were taken aback by the commotion.

"Westy was shouting, 'What's going on here?'" recalls Foley, laughing at the comedy of an increasingly exasperated Trapattoni cursing and muttering in the dark as he frantically ran his hands up and down the wall in search of a light switch that he couldn't find.

When the switch was located, he didn't really shed much light on the purpose of his visit.

"In his typical Italian way, he's trying to explain something to me about the final list being submitted to UEFA and it takes five minutes to understand what he's actually talking about," recalls Foley. "He said something about Paul McShane." (Although he wasn't part of the original 23, McShane was brought in to make up the numbers against Bosnia, a friendly that Foley missed after management advised him to rest).

"At first, I assumed it meant that Macca was coming as a 24th man in case me or John O'Shea were injured. But at the end, he just said I wouldn't be in his squad."

Wires were crossed in the telling, with Trapattoni struggling to articulate that injury concerns over centre-halves were the real reason, and McShane offered versatility. What stunned Foley was the complete absence of a warning that it was being considered. "They could have said something instead of bringing me to Italy and telling me 30 minutes before the deadline."

At the time, he was too shocked to coherently reply.

The news was breaking as he meandered to a nearby park to first call his nearest and dearest, starting with his wife Llewella, who was at home minding Lennon and their daughter Taiya. By chance, he was spotted by a group of journalists out for a walk, which produced the front-page images of a forlorn-looking Foley sitting on a bench with a phone pressed to his ear. "I was feeling calm at that point," he muses.

That changed back at the hotel, where football's unique sense of gallows humour was evidenced when he found his suitcase packed outside the room with his suit placed on top. "I think it was Kevin Doyle, the cheeky b*****d," he grins, stressing that he understood the attempt to lighten the mood. Players streamed in to offer condolences, with McShane one of the first, and the majority were saying they would be getting on the first flight home if they were in his shoes.

But Foley's phone kept hopping with messages which presumed injury was the reason and he decided to find Trapattoni and tell him he wanted to play that night's friendly with the local amateur select so he could prove otherwise.

"He was in the lobby with Tardelli," he recalls. "Trapattoni was apologetic, which was hard to take at the time. Marco was just being typical Marco. He wasn't sympathetic at all. Trapattoni asked me if I wanted to be on standby for Poland and I said I wasn't sure because I was flying to England the next day. Marco butted in and said 'You need to let us know now' and I was pissed off with him because he was being rude."

Foley wasn't alone in having a negative view of the assistant manager.

He got his wish for the night, though, and played the second half in a handy 5-0 success. Afterwards, he stopped for media and spoke of feeling betrayed. "That was how I felt," he shrugs.

It all happened quickly from there. Trapattoni was present for his departure the next morning. "He did seem quite upset," Foley says. "I don't think he was a cold-hearted man."

But the pain was raw and, from the runway, Foley texted the veteran boss to say he would be refusing the standby offer. By that evening, he was digging a new patio in the back garden with his father-in-law. "I was sending pictures to the lads, saying that I'd gone from the Euros to a ground worker in one day," he chuckles. "It was all a bit strange."

* * *

What happened next? The Luton-born player watched the Euros in an apartment in Portugal's Vale Do Lobo, upset for his team-mates while believing that his own anger hadsubsided. But when Trap texted to ask if he wanted a place in the squad for the August friendly with Serbia, he realised that part of him was still seething and said no.

He pauses when it is put to him that some fans would have no sympathy for any player refusing a call from his country. "It's a fair point," he says. "But I didn't want to look like a mug – that this guy got bombed and he's willing to come back. That was for myself really."

This hints at the reason why players and staff were genuinely dismayed that he was the victim of a surprise cull. Foley was the ultimate team player, having just eight caps to show from six years in the squad. He never complained about the multiple trips around Europe for no minutes, or the friendlies where he was the last sub to be introduced.

"Maybe I was too nice," he says. "In fact, I probably was too nice. I wish I had made more of an issue of it when I didn't play. I was always there but never used. I made my competitive debut against Macedonia (March 2011) and thought I'd done well. We played them away next and Stephen Kelly played. But I said nothing."

This time, he was determined to make a stand. "When Trap texted me about the Serbia game, I just didn't want him to think that everything was fine and I'd slot back in like a good lad," he asserts. Would he have said yes if a call came a further down the line? Another lengthy deliberation follows. "I think I would have, yeah."

* * *

That scenario never came to pass and, by his own admission, he didn't deserve to be presented with the dilemma as Wolves sunk to back-to-back relegations and he went from ever-present to the fringes. He stresses that injury causes the decline, not some kind of lingering grief.

A long-standing ankle complaint related to scar tissue in the bone was giving him genuine reasons for concern about the future. "I was feeling pain every time I twisted and turned. I was in and out of the side and I wasn't the same player. It became depressing. You have youth players running off the back of you and I'm thinking 'Why can't I stay with my runner?' That was the hardest part. You feel useless when you've got injuries like that."

The only saving grace was the four- year contract awarded by Mick McCarthy in 2011. "I don't know where I'd have been last season without it," he admits. When Kenny Jackett, Wolves' fifth boss in 16 months, arrived last summer to prepare for League One, he expelled a group of high-earning senior pros to train with the youths, but Foley avoided that ignominy.

Alas, his persistent setbacks in training frustrated Jackett, who placed him on the periphery as he constructed a promotion-winning side. Foley refused loan options until a fitness programme brought stability to his ankle and a month with Blackpool in March lifted spirits, even if they lacked the funds to extend it.

A week ago, he underwent a shoulder operation that was scheduled so he can begin pre-season in July. Jackett hasn't ruled him out of his Championship plans, but the player is prepared to move if necessary. "I can't afford to wait around for games," says the former Luton Town trainee. "I've a year left on my contract and need to prove my worth, whether it's at Wolves or somewhere else."

Age is creeping up. He was asked to show ID in Tesco recently as he purchased a bottle of whiskey as a thank you gift for a family friend, but the youthful features can't change the fact that he turns 30 in November and there is a trepidation about what that means in a fickle profession.

"I've got to stop speaking to players of my age because everyone is panicking," he quips. "I need to start hanging around with younger lads."

Later this month, Foley will travel to Dublin for the FAI initiative that is allowing international players to get their UEFA 'A' and 'B' Licences in a combined course. "I'd regret it if I didn't do it," he continues. "I've had a couple of tough seasons that put me off football a bit, but I'm loving it again now that I'm back fit."

* * *

REPORTING to Ireland for international duty again is an ambition, but he is realistic: "I'm not silly," he replies. "I have to prove myself again and wouldn't expect to be anywhere near a squad."

It would mean a lot to his family. The Foley clan were all booked up for Poland and the majority decided against going when he was cut, despite his encouragement. His younger brother Sean and his Kerry-born cousin Patrick were the exceptions, gratefully accepting the free trip.

"I think Sean had a flag or a shirt that said something about me being betrayed so at least he'd a story to tell!" he jokes. Now that the central figure has given his take, he doesn't plan on making a habit of it. Instead, the mind is focused on what's around the corner.

Before we part, one question remains to be asked. Placing the haphazard handling of his exclusion to one side, does he accept that Trapattoni made the right decision? "A little bit, a little bit," he responds, "I don't have bad feelings towards him. But the injuries (to centre-halves) he talked about, they were nothing injuries.

"I mean, John O'Shea had a bit of a niggle, Richard Dunne sits out most sessions until the day before and then he turns it on, and Darren O'Dea, Darren had blisters. I think it was all a bit of an over reaction. They were never in danger of missing any games."

Sure enough, those blisters healed quickly. So too did Foley's wounds and he is refreshingly sanguine about the whole affair. "I look back and laugh now," he says. "There's worse things that can happen in the world."

It is, he confesses, a story for the grandkids. He promises it won't be the only one.

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