Tuesday 24 October 2017

The reality is that the modern footballer, however youthful, doesn't do moral agonising

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
James Lawton

James Lawton

Jack Grealish is a free, extremely talented young footballer. He owes nobody but himself an explanation for his decision to put aside the green shirt of his youth for the white one of England and, maybe, the chance of taking a guaranteed place in the shop-window of next year's European Championships.

Still, he could have spared us the fiction of his moral agonising over choosing a place in his heart - the one created by Irish forebears - or the land of his birth in England.

That's how he framed the dilemma that had been exercising Martin O'Neill and Roy Hodgson for so long before Grealish's day of decision.

The reality is that the modern footballer, however youthful, doesn't do moral agonising and he is entitled to ask where he would find encouragement in such a way of thinking.


In the upper echelons of the FAI perhaps?

It hardly seems likely when you remember how disparagement of the leadership of Sepp Blatter signally failed to prevent a back-door financial deal with Fifa already tearing at the seams for its failure to stem rampant corruption.

Or the ruling powers of English football, where the Premier League leadership blithely defends a signing policy of foreigners that has left home-grown players with a shockingly dwindling representation in the domestic league, one far lower than any allegedly front-rank European league?

And the English FA feebly agrees that it is a marginal problem.

What does a youngster of enviable talent, one who has survived the massive immigration from across the world, do when he considers his best chance of progress and wealth?

It is not to cock an ear to the urgings of tribal elders but his professional advisers.

He does what Grealish announced he had done yesterday. He takes the main chance which became increasingly available as he developed his football experience with Aston Villa and Irish representative teams at every level short of a full cap for the national side.

The game was really up for O'Neill, twice over, when Grealish turned down the chance to wear the jersey once filled with warrior passion by Roy Keane.

The Cork enforcer of huge professional commitment was always sceptical about the chances of Grealish completing his impressive ascent of the Irish international system.

It was because, let's be honest, Keane was considering as a hard old pro not the colour of patriotism but the money, and the oodles more of it Grealish would be in line to collect if he listened more attentively to the entreaties of Hodgson than O'Neill.

By going with England, the 20-year-old has not, of course, joined up with one of the juggernauts of the international arena - despite the easy progress through a sweetheart European Championship qualifying group.

But potentially he has vastly increased his earning power - a successful England team, in which he certainly has the potential to inject a significant level of enhanced creativity, is plainly filled with greater sponsorship and earning potential won in a much bigger shop window.

This week Villa manager Tim Sherwood anticipated such a profitable future when he declared: "I wouldn't want to sell Jack Grealish for £60m. I know what he could possibly be. What looks expensive this year might not be expensive next year."

It is certainly not too fanciful to imagine Grealish's sharp wit and easy skill making an impressive impact in next summer's Euros.

If he makes the team - and given the level of his opposition there is not too much encouragement to bet against it - he has a chance to make an appealing case for himself in the gaze of European superpower clubs.

The likely alternative, had he chosen to stay with Ireland, was a longer holiday on some European beach.

That might have some attraction - Grealish is yet to prove himself a stalwart of professional self-discipline off the field - but plainly there is the chance of a major career breakthrough.


With England's qualification secure, Hodgson will no doubt be anxious to analyse the possibilities of contenders new to the England shirt.

Given his vigorous pursuit of the player - he even made the questionable assertion that having Irish grandparents is a 'tenuous link' - Hodgson seems certain to take a specially close look at Grealish.

It is an opportunity that will surely carry the young pretender beyond the passing discomfort of a nasty campaign of hostile tweets.

The worst of them described the youngster as a 'snake.' That said much about the warping of sporting patriotism. It was, though, a small hazard to set against the declaration for a boy with a Birmingham accent.

Now that footballers have become commodities, to be disposed of sometimes on a brutal whim, no one should be too surprised when profit is put before somebody else's idea of national pride.

Irish Independent

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