Tuesday 12 December 2017

Foley departure proves pragmatism trumps loyalty every time

Kevin Foley was a victim of circumstance but it could have been handled better, says Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Once again, the departure of an Ireland player from a pre-tournament training camp has caused something of a stir back home. The last time this happened, the over-reaction was embarrassing. But if we've learned anything from 2002, it's that all that matters now is how the players respond.

As we have come to expect from Giovanni Trapattoni, there seems to have been a degree of miscommunication in relation to why he excluded Kevin Foley from the Ireland squad for the Euros. The press were told it was a straightforward issue of versatility. Paul McShane can provide cover in central defence and Foley can't. The squad is light on central defenders without injury concerns so the selection of McShane makes sense. What makes little sense, if Trap said the same thing to Foley, is why Foley focused on his own fitness levels in explaining the injustice of his omission.

He said he was desperate to play in Tuesday's practice match against a Tuscany Select XI to prove he was fully fit. He said he could have trained the previous week and played against Bosnia if it was required to prove he was over his injury. He said he would have done so if it meant assuring his place in the final 23. If Trapattoni told him he was omitted because he cannot play in central defence, surely he would not have mentioned any of this. There would have been no point to prove by playing on Tuesday.

But mixed, garbled and contradictory messages have been the hallmark of much of the manager's reign so far. Foley is just the latest to suffer.

The accusation of betrayal was one that grabbed everyone's attention, but the episode finally blows apart the myth that Trapattoni is immensely loyal. He picked his initial 23 based on ability. Not one player was included for reasons other than that, and Foley's presence for so long in the squad ultimately counted for nothing. The idea that commitment and loyalty from the players would be returned in kind was rubbished by his handling of Kevin Kilbane. Last week it was shot to bits entirely.

It is not a failing of Trapattoni to be ruthless in his selections and ignore the feelings of those he disappoints, quite the opposite actually, but loyalty is a trait that no longer applies to the Italian.

Foley was a victim of circumstance, yes, but the lack of foresight in reducing the squad to 23 so early added to his heartache. Having been confirmed in the initial squad, his family and friends had booked to travel. Trapattoni dismissed suggestions he would have been better off naming 28 players originally and whittling it down from there at the latest opportunity. Disappointing five players from 28 would not have had more of an impact than removing one from the 23 who believed he was definitely going. He is entirely wrong to suggest otherwise.

Foley's decision on his international future is best left for another day, though family members have suggested it would be hard for him to return under Trapattoni. However, with only five starts in six years of involvement, there is no need to build him up to be something he is not. Never more than a fringe player, his early retirement won't have a significant impact on Ireland's immediate future. But the inclusion of McShane last week just might.

Trapattoni has named only seven defenders in his final squad. That number appears light when you consider three are now carrying knocks, and lighter still when the list includes Paul

McShane. If there is a need to replace any of them, Foley deserves to get the call. But given how it all ended for him last week, it may be wrong to assume he'll answer it. Understandably, he turned down an offer from Trapattoni to remain with the squad, and like Keith Fahey's last week, his departure would have had a considerable but short-lived impact on those who remain.

As McShane put it, "it's the nature of the beast", and players have come to expect and accept it as part of their job. Despite personal friendships with Foley, the primary task of the players remains clear. While some outsiders looked to question how morale within the squad would be affected by the decision, there is little sign this group would be thrown off course by such a change.

Trapattoni is adamant he is no longer prepared to discuss the issue and maybe we should follow his lead. If only we had all done the same 10 years ago.


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