Wednesday 21 February 2018

Steven Reid: A daunting test, but we've got a chance under a manager who is prepared to involve our best players

I was Andy Reid's room-mate when it all kicked off on his last trip to Germany as an Ireland international. I know how upset he was at the unfairness of it all and, five years on, it's fairly ironic that he should make his comeback in a country he will remember for all the wrong reasons.

September 2008 was supposed to represent a fresh start.

This was the refixed game with Georgia in Mainz, the first competitive game of Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure. We won that night and, while Andy was not involved, the lads met in the hotel bar after the game for a standard post-match gathering.

As an accomplished musician, Andy led the sing-song on the guitar while we enjoyed a few beers and, as far as the group was concerned, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Trapattoni arrived back with a different view, told the staff to stop serving, singled out Andy as the ringleader and the rest, as they say, is history. Angry words were exchanged.

My view then – and my view now – is that it was the perfect excuse for Trapattoni to dispense with Andy's services. I don't think the heated row they had that night was actually the reason for his exile. Perhaps it sped it up a little, but it was already clear at that point Andy didn't fit into his preferred system; he didn't have faith in him to play any of the midfield roles so the signs were ominous for Andy.

I was out of the firing line that night but saw first hand how much it hurt Andy when he returned to the room after the argument. Indeed, I soon joined him in the bad books when I felt I had no option but to retire after Sam Allardyce's response to Trapattoni's unfair comments about my recovery from the knee injury, and we would often send each other a message when squads were released to try and make some light of our respective situations.

It was a tough time and we missed rooming together, so all we could do was try and make a joke about it.

Considering how harshly he was treated, I was thrilled to see Andy get a fully deserved call for this week. In the two years before Trap gave him the bullet, he was arguably our most creative player, a guy who could make things happen. From what I've seen, he has been outstanding for Nottingham Forest this season – a club, by the way, that should at least make the play-offs.

Andy looks as fit as I've ever seen him, evidence of a man making a conscious effort to do the right things and live his life in the right way.

It doesn't surprise me. There's an awful lot of guys who actually become fitter once they cross the 30 barrier because you understand the body a lot more and start to mind it better. You can find yourself in the best shape of your life; that's my assessment of Andy now and this is his reward.

I can't say that I know Noel King too well but I watched footage of his press conference the other day and found his honesty really refreshing. He's gone about things the right way by, quite simply, selecting the best available options.

You can't tell me that Andy and Darron Gibson shouldn't be in a 23-man squad. They are two of our best players, and while Andy is five and a bit years older, they both bring a certain amount of seniority to the squad, given that Darron is an established Premier League regular – an important attribute, especially with John O'Shea and Richard Dunne suspended. Kevin Doyle is another welcome returnee while I like what I've watched of Anthony Stokes in the last six months and he's there on merit.

Rightly or wrongly, any time a manager comes in, it gives players a lift because the slate is generally cleaned and there's a real zip in training because there's a sense everything is up for grabs. And, while Noel will doubtless be looking to push his own credentials – it's a wonderful opportunity for him – the boys will know that the candidates who are interested in the job will also be watching.

It's a hell of a challenge, though. I welcome Noel's decision to change the shape because it's the only way to tackle a German side with serious quality in midfield; West Ham's win at Tottenham last week – where Big Sam effectively sent out a team without a striker – illustrates the increasingly popular way to respond to a fixture where you expect the superior side will own the ball. Trapattoni's 4-4-2 simply wasn't suitable for that test.

It's hard to single out one of the Germans but with Mesut Ozil likely to be their most advanced central midfielder, keeping him quiet would represent a good starting point. I wasn't involved in West Brom's draw with Arsenal last weekend but we did a very good job of stifling his influence.

Our manager brought in Claudio Jakob to sit next to Youssouf Mulumbu in front of the back four and the pair of them were absolutely superb. They closed it up so there was very little space for him in that No 10 position between the lines. Compared to his other Premier League outings thus far, he was relatively anonymous and it disrupted Arsenal's flow.

I'm sure Ireland will go with a similar formation, with two in the middle parked in front of the back four and then another player just ahead of them – we've seen Robbie Keane in that role but I'm sure it will be a natural midfielder this time. Andy has the discipline to slot in there and I am hopeful he will take part at some stage.

A draw would represent an incredible result and, realistically, that is probably asking for too much. Still, the fact we now have a manager who seems prepared to involve our better players should at least give us the best possible chance.

Irish Independent

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