Not enough Green shoots, says Liam Brady
Brady fears new crop of Irish players being stifled at grass-roots clubs as focus on results halts development
HE may feel that Giovanni Trapattoni's best short-term option is to employ a strategy that would squeeze out Robbie Keane, but Liam Brady's long-term concern for Irish football is the absence of young players with the skipper's talent.
While Trapattoni wrestles with the dilemma of how to overhaul an ageing team, Brady's biggest fear is that the next generation lack the star quality of those who are reaching the end of the road.
In his position as director of the Arsenal academy, the former Ireland midfielder is well placed to comment on the quality of youth players -- and he is worried about the future.
Manchester United starlet Robbie Brady and his own club's injury-prone Conor Henderson offer some hope. Yet, Brady stopped short of labelling them certainties to progress -- in contrast with Keane, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Shay Given when they emerged on the scene in the late 1990s.
Brady (pictured below) believes that the dearth of Irish youngsters on Arsenal's radar is indicative of wider-reaching problems arising from this country's fragmented football structure.
"I don't think there's any Irish players around of the same calibre as Damien Duff and Robbie Keane had as youngsters," said Brady yesterday.
"I think we have a few possibles, but they're not probables. You knew that Damien, Robbie, Shay and Richard were going to be big players for Ireland.
"I don't think there's anyone like that at the moment. I'd put Brady in the possible category alongside Henderson."
Why are Ireland not producing the same class of player? Brady, who was in Dublin to promote ESPN's coverage of the new Premier League season, feels it is a tangled web.
"I've always maintained that the culture of Irish and English soccer is not in tandem with developing skilful players," he said.
"It's very result orientated and not development orientated. I think a lot of the clubs in the schoolboy leagues are competing for trophies rather than developing players.
"There has to be enlightened leadership from the FAI. I think they have made some inroads with the power of schoolboy football here and the power of the clubs, but not enough to influence what should -- in my mind -- be number one on the agenda.
"If you go and see an U-16 Dublin schoolboys match, you see a lot of big lads getting stuck into one another.
"We're at a huge disadvantage anyway -- not all our youngsters play soccer. There's a huge draw to Gaelic games and quite a big draw to rugby.
"Yet, Croatia is an example of a nation that's not particularly big who have skilful players coming through
"U-16 football is a product of what happens when the players are eight, nine and 10. I think we should do what the French have done and have a centre for the talented kids, from maybe the ages of 12 to 16.
"You could think about educating them at that centre as well. We're not in a good place at the moment as regards funding and finance, but the ambition should be there to do it.
"The problem is the power of the schoolboys clubs. Some of them are making a lot of money out of young players going to England so there's real competition to hold on to their players and not let anybody have them. They don't like the FAI having influence on them.
"Perhaps, with persuasion, people could buy into it.
"Maybe a dual registration where they're registered at the school, but also belong to Stella Maris or St Kevin's or whoever, so maybe if they do go to England, there's compensation."
For now, however, Trapattoni must deal with players that have largely been produced by the English system.
As a former member of this regime, Brady remains a huge admirer of the Italian. However, he acknowledges that the Ireland manager is facing into a difficult autumn, and admits to disagreeing with Trap on certain aspects of the way forward in the wake of the Euro 2012 heartbreak.
When he named his panel for the forthcoming friendly with Serbia, Trapattoni hinted that he would retain his 4-4-2 formation, reasoning that Ireland didn't possess the right kind of players to adapt to a 4-3-3 featuring one out-and-out central striker.
"I would say the players are there," said Brady, "Looking at the squad he's picked to go to Serbia, iIt looks like it's going to be a minor transition now.
"If he's going to play James McCarthy, it would suit him more in a three (man central midfield). I hope he does it. But if you're going to go to that formation, it would probably mean Robbie wouldn't be in it.
"I don't think Giovanni would be frightened of that at all. I think what he genuinely believes is that the other formation is better for getting us results.
"I haven't spoken to him since the Euros but I'm sure I'll speak to him in August when it's all back up and running again.
"I would be quite open with him and tell him I disagree with him. But he's been there, done that and got the T-shirt. I haven't."
Brady adds that he would have promoted McCarthy into his starting XI some time ago, and one presumes he made that point to his former boss.
In the past, the Dubliner has predicted that Trapattoni would gradually bring about change, which indicates that he has definitely thought about it.
When push comes to shove, however, the Italian has leaned towards experience. "He was in a very difficult position," continued Brady. "Over four years, his players delivered really well. He felt he owed it to them to keep them together.
"In my opinion, now is the time to look at other things. I would argue with him that we could play a different formation.
"Not a lot of teams in international football play 4-4-2. There are not a lot of teams in the Premiership who play 4-4-2 -- but he knows what's at stake better than anybody."
Whatever happens, he anticipates that Trapattoni will hang tough. A poor start on the road to Brazil would crank up the pressure levels but, if the opening pair of games with Kazakhstan and Germany end in disappointment, Brady wouldn't expect the veteran to walk away.
"He'd have to be asked to leave," Brady added. "That's the way the world works.
"I think some of the criticism has been unfair because we've a far inferior group of players compared to the teams I saw us against in the Euros.
"But he's vastly experienced and will know after the disappointment he will have to get off a good start. Because, if we don't, it could turn nasty."