Friday 20 September 2019

Wes should change his mind on retirement and give Martin O'Neill a phone call

Ireland's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Kerr

Why now, Wes?

That was the first reaction upon hearing that Wesley Hoolahan had decided to call time on his international career. Why now?

There are normally two main reasons why players choose to retire from international football. Firstly, when it becomes obviously clear that the manager doesn't want you and is unlikely to pick you in the future.

Secondly, it is because there is growing pressure from the club side that forces one to choose between one or the other - often these days prolonging an international career is not always good for the financial or physical health of a player.

If international ambitions are cast aside, players are much more likely to be in an advantageous position when it comes to securing more lucrative contract extensions, safe in the knowledge that there is now a reduced risk of either injury or fatigue.

In my time as manager, my early conversations with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson surrounding the possible return of Roy Keane would have alighted upon his ongoing injury concerns at the time due to his then troublesome hip injury.

There were regular chats concerning the need to limit work-loads, particularly during the international friendly windows and they were mostly workmanlike and amenable to friendly negotiation.

Ferguson would also have asked me to play Liam Miller for about an hour in certain matches. And no longer. I would conveniently ignore it. We had a good relationship though because he knew I wouldn't take huge liberties.

But would that risk really apply in this instance?

After all, Hoolahan's Ireland career effectively began to flourish at a time in his life when most players in the modern era are deciding to hang up their international boots.

Hoolahan has rarely suffered serious injuries and those seasons where has played at an intensive level for an extended period of time have been relatively rare, and even then it was often the case that he would not necessarily have to play an entire 90 minutes.

Always a late developer, his period as a regular starter in English football only came when he joined Norwich City in 2008 and in his 201 starts he has not always completed 90 minutes either.

Fifty appearances in his first season with the club, then in the Championship, represented his heaviest workload.

Four seasons were spent in the Premier League but it is not as if the club were exerted by the added pressures of European football or elongated FA Cup runs, nor indeed Wes himself, who always had the intelligent ability to get on the ball rather than spend a day running around to get on it.

Gareth McAuley was another late starter like Wes, also remaining in his domestic league until the age of 25 before embarking upon a career across the water.

He was only capped at 26 and yet he is still continuing to play internationally at 38, the age Wes referenced that he will reach should Ireland make the next European Championships, part of which will be staged not so far from the streets where he first fell in love with the game.

Given the dearth of similar players, it's not like there is a collection of unfulfilled brilliance behind him.

Jeff Hendrick, or Robbie Brady, should be primed to take on the role as the catalysts to play the football we did at the Euros when Wes provided some of our best passages of play under Martin O'Neill.

He invited other players to indulge in passing patterns. Perhaps that's unlikely under the current manager again.

It's not like he will be keeping someone else out of the team if he stays on.

And if Ireland are committed to changing the style which is necessary to progress, then who is better than Wes to guide the team in that direction?

His influence on how Ireland played was always obvious when he featured and even more obvious when he didn't.

Maybe it is more convenient for the manager to alleviate some pressure by simply accepting the decision.

No more talk about Wes.

The player's' logic may seem correct about not making the next tournament but surely he could play some part in getting there.

It might also extend his club career.

He would remain in the eye of other clubs too.

Unless he feels his body is struggling but why should it be?

He surely has loved it. He surely has enjoyed it. On the rare occasions I would meet him, you could sense he was buzzing.

And if I see him again soon, I'd encourage him to give Martin a buzz.

He's changed so many minds over the years. Maybe he might change his own, too.

Irish Independent

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