Sunday 25 February 2018

'It took until he was 33 for us to find Wes. That's wrong' - Stephen McPhail on Irish Football culture

26 June 2016; Wes Hoolahan of Republic of Ireland following the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between France and Republic of Ireland at Stade des Lumieres in Lyon, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
26 June 2016; Wes Hoolahan of Republic of Ireland following the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between France and Republic of Ireland at Stade des Lumieres in Lyon, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Neville

We've been watching the same film for years. A bespectacled foreign manager lands in Dublin ahead of an important World Cup qualifier.

As he settles into his seat for the first of that week's round of press conferences, the local newspaper men ask him the obvious question. What do you know about Ireland?

The manager - who I shall call Hans Foreigner - sighs, shifts in his seat and seeks to flatter his seats with what he no doubt believes are fulsome, but plausible, compliments.

The phrases "good spirit", "strong in the air", and "very physical" invariably feature prominently in his instantly forgettable monologue.

The hearts of our cultured football sink and they once more curse Jack Charlton and Giovanni Trapattoni for lumbering us with this reputation.

Stephen McPhail, often cited as a highly technical footballer poorly served by Irish (and English) football's cultural fondness towards midfield brawlers, believes we need to cultivate and believe in our creative and elegant ball players.

He reminds the world that Wes Hoolahan was in his thirties before he was properly trusted in the Irish midfield.

"We've always had technical players and we just need to believe in them a bit more," McPhail told LOI Weekly.

"You have to fit into a structure. I understand that. But I just don't know if we believe enough in the players that should be creative. We don't promote them enough. Like Wes, we're all raving about over the last few years. He's 33. It took until 33 to find Wes. It's wrong for me.

"We need to believe in these kids when they're 17 or 18. Let them play. Let them take over games and dictate games and let them learn the game playing the right way."

However, McPhail believes we need to marry the creative approach to the combative style with which we have long been associated.

"We'll always have that culture of desire and wanting to win," added McPhail.

"I don't want to take that away from our kids. I go to academy football in England and no one wants to win. No one wants to grit in, there's no 2-1 victories.

"It's a bit false for me that academy style. It's trying to get that balance. It's about saying, 'you're an individual that likes to play football, you're still in this team to work hard and get the ball back'. We have to marry those things together at the right time."

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