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Generation game


Respect. In modern football, it is an increasingly futile aspiration. No matter who you are.

Giovanni Trapattoni has achieved so much in the game that he demands it. But his sport has changed.

The Ireland manager is exasperated by the conduct of young players from an alien culture. First Anthony Stokes, and now James McCarthy and Marc Wilson. He preaches the virtues of pride and honour and believes that the manner in which these international novices have absented themselves from this week's activities illustrates a distinct lack of those characteristics.

McCarthy and Wilson now face an uphill struggle to challenge the perception that they are just another pair of youngsters, in a cosseted world of obscene wealth, who devolve responsibility when it comes to duties which Trapattoni would consider as basic manners or courtesy.

"We called these players, they didn't answer, they didn't come," said the irate Italian, who could hardly have imagined that he could end up firefighting after Tuesday's 5-0 win over Northern Ireland.

Trapattoni was asked if he felt that his authority had been threatened by the contentious no-shows. It was a question that, quite literally, had the watching Marco Tardelli up in arms.

Tardelli would never challenge the 72-year-old's authority. In fact, he can't get his head around the idea of it even being a topic of debate.


After all, in Italy, Trapattoni is a revered figure who has spent life at the top table collecting major trophies and leading dressing-rooms packed with some of the great names and characters in the game's history.

Now, he's getting the runaround from players barely out of their teens who play for Stoke or Wigan, or a Premier League outcast like Stokes who's too 'tired' to extend this season.

Where is the respect? Amid the disputes over the seriousness of injuries, which are mired in matters of communication and medical interpretation, one thing is certain.

Trapattoni has been placed in an embarrassing position because footballers who are half a century younger, and on their way to a millionaire lifestyle regardless of whether they have success in their careers, operate off a different code of conduct. It seems that his name carries little weight in their world.

"It's impossible for me to understand this," said Trapattoni. "This shouldn't happen anywhere."

For McCarthy and Wilson, the timing is unfortunate. Both could have played against the country of their birth this week, and now find their commitment to the alternative paths challenged.

Both have taken their fair share of stick for the initial decision to declare for Ireland. McCarthy, in particular, needed to be thick skinned to endure ferocious abuse on the terraces in Scotland. It took courage to overcome it. Now, he stands accused of disinterest. That's a pretty sharp contrast.

Certainly, the role of the respective employers shouldn't be understated. Wigan are clearly at odds with the FAI over the nature of McCarthy's injury. They are extremely protective of an asset with a serious sell-on value.

And, unsurprisingly, no club is particularly happy about an extension of a player's season until the first week of June. Considering pre-season begins at the start of July, it leaves a miniscule window for rest and recovery. Nevertheless, while Stoke's three Irishmen were absent on Tuesday, the three Wolves players involved in a tense relegation battle on Sunday -- Kevin Foley, Stephen Ward and Stephen Hunt -- were all present and correct to contribute to the Northern Irish game.

Glenn Whelan will be in later this week, and Jonathan Walters explained to the Irish Independent yesterday that he has a long-standing shoulder problem which the FAI were aware of. The Irish medical department were surprised by a reported hamstring injury for Wilson though and so, evidently, were Trapattoni and Tardelli.

This is where we return to the original point. Tardelli's message was straightforward enough: if you have a new injury, then come and show it to us. Or at least show a desire to do so.

Essentially, this is the nub of the issue with McCarthy. In the past, Trapattoni was to blame for some confusing public statements which could have been solved by making an attempt to contact the player directly.

Stubbornly, he refused to do so, until the February circus over his international allegiance got out of hand. Trapattoni broke from his usual modus operandi to fly from Italy to sort things out.

After belatedly establishing some kind of personal relationship with McCarthy, he wanted something back this week but didn't get it. Tardelli said that Mary O'Brien, who works for the FAI's International Department, had tried in vain to get in contact with McCarthy about travel logistics over the past fortnight.

"Giovanni was talking about the behaviour of this player," said Tardelli when asked about the manager's emotional outbursts on Monday and Tuesday.

"He never doubted whether he was or was not injured. It's not that they (the doctors) didn't believe it. But the scan we received didn't give a clear sign of a bad injury. Or a difficult injury. What we are saying is, he could have come, been assessed and then eventually gone back to the club.

"I think the club must also tell James McCarthy to go to the national team. The FAI, Giovanni, me, we need all the Irish players. We know the season was very hard for James McCarthy. And I believe Stoke, and I believe the other players, but sometimes it's possible to come here and be assessed by our doctors.

"The problem with James McCarthy is not if he comes or not, the problem is the behaviour. Mary O'Brien sent him the message and he never answered. Mary O'Brien is a woman who works for the FAI. She needs respect.

"We respect all players. Giovanni and I went to Wigan in a car, for three hours. Giovanni came from Italy, and we spoke with James. We call up the players for the squad and if they want, they come."

The thrust of Tardelli's argument is that after getting an invitation to come and represent their country, players shouldn't need any more cajoling. Naturally, it is a sentiment that the supporters empathise with. The messy way in which this has been played out has left sympathy for McCarthy and Wilson in short supply.

On Tuesday, Trapattoni threatened exclusion from future squads. Tardelli was more diplomatic -- if he wants the job in the long term, he is hardly going to burn his bridges -- but the general sentiment was consistent.

"If players are injured, and others come in and do well, then we must decide," he said. "If (Stephen) Ward comes in, plays well, and scores a goal, then why must I pick Wilson?

"I think it's better to speak about the players that are here because they deserve it."

The door is not closed on McCarthy and Wilson but, from now, it's their responsibility to keep it open.

Irish Independent