Sport Soccer

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Have boots, will travel: Irish who may be on the move

James McCarthy has a big decision to make about his future before the start of next season
James McCarthy has a big decision to make about his future before the start of next season

Next season, the Champions League, Europe's elite club competition, could be a wasteland for Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland squad unless Celtic sign a couple of the usual suspects. But there are some Irish players who could give their careers a massive lift by promoting themselves during the endless summer days of transfer gossip. David Kelly investigates

Seamus Coleman


On the radar: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea.

Value: £25m

A summer season initially more prominent for managerial changes has yet to have a markedly substantial effect on the players' market – hence Old Trafford's new boss David Moyes has thus far failed to reunite with any of his former charges.

Ireland's best right-back since Steve Finnan was a summer target for Liverpool last season but an initial sniff from two years ago was hastily and haughtily rebuffed from the other side of Stanley Park.

Moyes, who picked up one of the bargain buys of the decade for just £60,000 from Sligo Rovers, thought highly enough of the Killybegs man to offer him three new improved contracts in successive seasons before his departure, the last worth £35,000 a week and only signed in December.

Coleman is a devotee of the Scot too.

It remains to be seen whether that mutual admiration will be consummated in Manchester; perhaps not immediately, given the presence of Rafael and Phil Jones, and Moyes is more concerned at recruiting Leighton Baines.

If not, there are plenty of other clubs – Chelsea and Manchester City have been noted admirers – who would be interested in snapping up a talent whose Wembley heroics typified someone who seems hungry to thrive regularly on an even bigger stage.

Strengths: One of the best attacking full-backs around and a superb crosser.

Weaknesses: Defensively not so hot, albeit man-of-the-match displays against Arsenal and City last term indicated an improvement here.

Prospects: Moyes a definite fan but other clubs may step in before the year is out.

James McCarthy

Wigan Athletic

On the radar: Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal.

Value: £15m

Earlier this year, a manager who would be more than a little intimate with the qualities associated with James McCarthy outlined the assets that have seen the Glasgow-born midfielder adopt a swagger on the Premier League stage.

"He is a really tenacious kind of player but he is also very skilful and he has incredible perception in terms of where everybody else is on the field," said the manager. "To buy him, you would need at least £10m."

The manager? Roberto Martinez, then Wigan manager and McCarthy's boss, now Everton manager and the player's putative pursuer. So willing to see someone else spend 10 big ones on a Wigan player, will he be so flush with his own money?

Ironically, the piqued protectionist speech from Martinez has arguably inflated McCarthy's figure, with the Spaniard's former boss Dave Whelan unlikely to easily part with one of his few prized post-relegation prizes.

His all-round class would suit even the elite Premier League sides, of which Arsenal may be the more likely candidates as none of the new bosses at the other three Champions League clubs will be willing to take what, for them, would seem like a huge punt.

Strengths: Those over-rated stats, beloved of Moneyball types and Sam Allardyce-clones, place McCarthy in the top five for passing and top 10 for tackling. In short, the boy's a good 'un.

Weaknesses: Remains to be seen whether he can bring his talent on to the next level and survive with the step up in class – remember Liam Miller? – but one suspects he is made of sterner stuff.

Prospects: The only Wigan player with a relegation-proof contract, he deserves the chance to continue his club progression, albeit probably outside the top four at first with Spurs.

Richard Dunne

Aston Villa

On the radar: Er, everybody and nobody.

Value: No fee, name your weekly wage.

Such a sad decline from a peak of being Manchester City's player of the year for four years running and one who would, had certain people deigned his name sufficient enough to hold sway with Beijing housewives, have won a league title and played Champions League with the club.

Instead, after three predictably top-quality seasons where his class oozed despite being housed within an even more predictably moderate Aston Villa side, he finds himself dumped on the scrapheap after a horrific 12-month injury spell.

Now he is anyone's, although Celtic boss Neil Lennon has already turned his nose up at both his age, 34 in September, and his potential wage demands – his last salary at Villa was (gulp) £53,000 per week.

Pointedly, Lennon added on his recent Dublin jaunt that if he was in the Premier League, he would readily snap up the Tallaght man – prime candidates are recently promoted Hull City and Cardiff, or sides seeking to establish themselves – West Brom, Stoke City.

Strengths: What you see is what you get – Trapattoni's famed "wardrobe" remains a quality defender at Premier League level.

Weaknesses: If fit, that is. Dunne admitted to fears for his playing future in the last year of inactivity, a statement that may hardly endear him to cash-conscious club owners.

Prospects: Dunne wants to play and if he could guarantee a season of fitness, a Premier League club would be barmy to pass; if it's money he's after, that MLS deal from New York could be ideal as he rests up that troublesome hip and groin.

Shane Long

West Brom

On the radar: Hoffenheim, Schalke, Lazio, Sevilla, Liverpool.

Value: £12m

The former Tipp hurler is one of those familiar summer stories when, in order to fulfil the needy demands of transfer tittle-tattle, instead of English sides, one substitutes continental clubs in order to justify transfer speculation.

And so, as international fare, and the equally pressing service of his recent marriage, delay Long's negotiation of a new contract, a timely slew of German and Spanish sides are tossed into the tabloid mix for one's daily perusal; Liverpool's interest was more realistic but may have lapsed.

Long, who cost West Brom a club record £6.5m from Reading in 2011, has a year – plus a 12-month option – left on his current deal although his club are rather more anxious than he about penning an extension. Perhaps the Irishman is awaiting news on where the wandering Romelu Lukaku may eventually lay his hat after he imperceptibly upstaged Long in the season just concluded.

Strengths: Quick, strong in the air, tireless and a scoring ratio that suggests even more improvement to come.

Weaknesses: Can struggle to adapt to striking partnerships.

Prospects: Would seem churlish to spurn another season at an over-achieving side, especially at the height of his powers (26) as he seeks to edge Robbie Keane from the Irish side. Doesn't want to follow Kevin Doyle's career path and be blown out before he's 30.

Aiden McGeady

Spartak Moscow

On the radar: Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wigan, Sunderland, Everton, Fulham

Value: £4m

Although McGeady has a year left on his contract with Moscow, the player is already eyeing up a quickie divorce and a campaign that has featured the crowd regularly giving him the bird, an almighty dressing-room barney (mostly with the furniture) and a lengthy ban hints at an exit, wouldn't one think?

Certainly, most of the agents on the scene seem to think so, and his name has been liberally linked with several clubs – Everton being the latest – in a scattergun approach quite similar to that which McGeady himself brings to on-field proceedings.

However, even before Roberto Martinez arrived at Goodison Park, David Moyes had been an admirer; so too the Spaniard, who thought he had his man at Wigan in January only for the 27-year-old to do a U-turn (another familiar sight to McGeady's frustrated Irish fans).

At 27, McGeady remains an unfulfilled talent and if he doesn't make the move back into the spotlight of the English top flight this summer, his chance to establish himself as a serious player, rather than a serious dilettante, may have vanished for all time.

Strengths: Close control remains an inherent gift and invaluable to teams who may not dominate possession in the Premier League.

Weaknesses: Appalling goalscoring record and inconsistency has remained a bugbear throughout his career.

Prospects: McGeady knows Everton are interested in him and vice versa; that's the easy bit in modern football transfers. Getting the move over the line is quite another thing.

James McClean


On the radar: Celtic

Value: £2m

A series of childish outbursts – one is understandable, but recidivist inanity on Twitter or elsewhere is unacceptable – haven't helped his cause at Sunderland.

He is one of the primary targets of the new Italian hierarchy at the Stadium of Light in terms of discipline and control and, with the fans also not slow to get on his back, the former Derry star will have a battle on his hands to regain the upward curve of a career that came following Steve Bruce's replacement by Martin O'Neill.

McClean's difficult-second-season syndrome, coupled with the scepticism of new boss Paolo Di Canio, reflects the bargain price possibly available to suitors after the fiery Italian deigned to allow a 'For Sale' tag to be attached to the fiery Irishman.

Strengths: Devilish left foot and incipient promise of a central role in certain formations.

Weaknesses: Not Sunderland's worst player of a dull season but certainly their most disappointing. Needs to convince that he is not a flash in the pan.

Prospects: Hopefully will have maturity to fight for his place but could be faced with worst-case scenario where his new boss Di Canio doesn't offer him that chance.

Kevin Doyle


On the Radar: Celtic, Leeds United, WBA

Value: £2m

What a difference a year makes – at Euro 2012, Wexford's proudest son was one of Ireland's best performers, albeit under-utilised, amongst the detritus of that Polish pipe dream.

This summer, he cannot get within an ass's roar of Giovanni Trapattoni's squad and his club side have spiralled into freefall – dropping two divisions since Doyle kick-started that Euro 2012 season as one of the most admired front men in the Premier League.

Loyal Wolves fans continue to be puzzled about a strike rate of a measly 27 goals in 135 appearances from a striker who once scored 18 in the Premiership and a contract worth £16,000 a week until 2015 remains a millstone around a club who have dropped more than £30m since dumping Mick McCarthy.

Celtic wanted Doyle in January on loan but that move didn't materialise for reasons Neil Lennon wouldn't expand upon recently when he confirmed that the player was still on his club's radar.

He didn't sound overly enthusiastic though and it would appear that Doyle's chances of a move there depend on Lennon being unfortunate enough to lose one of his current stalwarts, Gary Hooper, for example.

Strengths: Honest player whose willingness to run the tramlines as a lone striker has arguably denuded him of his ability to develop core skills such as ...

Weaknesses: ... eh, scoring, which he has sadly forgotten about in recent times which is a tad fortunate, given that this is the primary currency in which a striker deals.

Prospects: Would be a most unlikely and encouraging shimmy were Doyle to escape the hatches of trips to Broadhall Way (that's Stevenage, folks) and into the Champions League with Celtic. Fingers crossed.

Shay Given

Aston Villa

On the radar: Celtic, Hull City

Value: £1m

Now 37, Given's career at the highest level seems to be at a crossroads after a meeting with Villa boss Paul Lambert last month which confirmed the end of his time in the Midlands.

The Lifford netminder was earning a cool £60,000 a week and with three years remaining on the deal he signed when he joined them from Manchester City for £3.5m in 2011, there has been much speculation about a 'pay-off' or contract buy-out to suit both sides.

Nonetheless, with the goalkeepers' union still boasting of extended shelf-lifes of its leading participants – Friedel, Schwarzer et al – Hull boss Steve Bruce is currently eyeing up a bargain as his other 'keeper targets are overpriced.

While wages could be an issue, the price tag certainly fits the constrained budget assigned to Bruce and it would fulfil Given's desire to continue playing at the highest level. Or he could return to Celtic which would complete the circle of a career and, belatedly, reunite him with the Champions League after more than a decade's absence.

Strengths: More than 600 club games for Blackburn, Swindon, Sunderland, Newcastle, Manchester City and Villa and the not insignificant matter of 125 international caps represents a wealth of experience.

Weaknesses: His stark and sudden decline was evident at Euro 2012 and his club employers weren't slow to notice either and recent inactivity may mitigate a return to top form.

Prospects: Villa probably won't let him join another Premier League side on loan, so Bruce will have to talk the talk; otherwise a loan move to Celtic beckons, particularly if Lennon loses Fraser Forster

Stephen Ireland

Aston Villa

On the radar: Planet Earth (we tentatively suggest)

Value: £2m

Joined Villa in 2009 in the swap deal that brought James Milner to Man City; debuted in a 6-0 defeat and it's been a familiar rollercoaster since then; from player of the year to loanee outcast at Newcastle and all points in between.

Fifty-five appearances in three seasons – with one goal – and a last run-out in December won't have prospective suitors calling around to his house – whatever colour, shape or outlandish design that currently is.

Effectively cost £8m as part of that Milner swap – which makes one wonder what the hell City thought Milner was worth – and the serial granny-killer's £65,000 wage packet (that pays for a lot of furry chairs) is a real hindrance to current and future employers.

Eastern Asia seems to have perfected a fetish for weird house architecture but that probably wouldn't be far enough for some Irish supporters who are still angry with him.

Strengths: When he wanted to, Ireland was one of the best all-round midfielders in this country ...

Weaknesses: ... Trouble is, he has never seemed to want to all that much.

Prospects: Wherever in the world Stephen Ireland (pictured left) lands, it will ultimately come second to the unique world in which the Cobh native already lives.

Stephen Hunt


On the radar: Everybody (he says)

Value: Free

Signed for £4m in 2010 by Mick McCarthy, a reunion with the now Ipswich boss could be one route out of the unfolding Molineux implosion although the Waterford man appears to be raising his skirt to all-comers.

"I've had an offer from a club in Germany, two or three offers from Championship clubs and a couple of sniffs from Premier League clubs as well," he says. "So I'm going to sit tight for two or three weeks and gauge what is best before deciding on a next move which is a very important one given the age I am at."

Strengths: Indefatigable wide man who could have caved in at Wolves but responded to crowd-baiting with strong finish to campaign.

Weaknesses: Often a better impact player than a starter.

Prospects: What price a reunion with brother Noel at Leeds United under the watchful eye of Brian McDermott?

Chris McCann


On the Radar: Hull City, Crystal Palace, Notts Forest

Value: Free

The former Burnley midfielder (25) made 269 appearances for Burnley over nine years, scoring 31 goals.

McCann decided against signing a new deal with Burnley, hoping for a return to the Premier League after his previous outing in the top flight, in season 2009/10 with Burnley, was cut short by injury.

"Chris McCann's situation is that he actually didn't really want to engage in a contract situation with us, not because he dislikes us or the club, but because he feels that it might be time for him to move on," says Burnley boss Sean Dyche.

The player who looked more than a Premier League regular against the likes of Manchester United, Everton and Sunderland before injury intervened wants another crack at the big time.

Strengths: At his best, in a three-man midfield, McCann is a driving force with an eye for a goal and the crisp pass.

Weaknesses: Injuries have bedevilled his latter years and he has been played out of position at club level.

Prospects: A worthy acquisition for a Premier League newcomer requiring experience of the top flight and a dollop of class.

Irish Independent

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