Sport Soccer

Sunday 19 November 2017

Trap right to stick by Whelan

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

ONE of the strangest aspects of sport is that one incident at the very end of the game changes the entire analysis of what went on before. Had Rasmus Elm managed to score for Sweden in the dying minutes on Friday night in Stockholm, Ireland would still have done all of the things which, after the draw was eventually secured, they were praised for in the previous 92 minutes of action.

They would still have pressed the opposition well, they would still have kept the ball better than they have done for the majority of Trapattoni's tenure and it would still have been one of the best performances under the Italian's stewardship. But, had Elm managed to finish Zlatan Ibrahimovic's flick-on past David Forde, all of that would have gone out the window.

Instead, Ireland would have failed to beat a team that were there for the taking; Wes Hoolahan's introduction would have come too late or there would have been serious questions asked about why Shane Long was replaced by Conor Sammon.

The same reactionary analysis is true of individual players and for the majority of the manager's time in charge, it has been better (to paraphrase Mark Twain) for some not to play and have people believe they are a good player than to see them in action and destroy the illusion.

Yet on the rare occasions that Trapattoni's team have been deemed worthy of praise, the reputations of those not playing is somehow diminished by their absence, even if they have done nothing to deserve it.

The only thing that Glenn Whelan did wrong last week was fail to recover from an injury in time to take his place yet, after Paul Green's performance, Whelan's ability was being denigrated in certain circles by many of the same people who had previously held up Green as everything that was wrong with the Italian's regime.

After Trapattoni named him in his team on Thursday, Green was "only" a Championship player who was keeping out a Premier League regular in McCarthy. There's an argument that Green is now the man in possession of the jersey and deserves a chance to keep his place, but to elevate him in stature above another Premier League regular – Whelan – is nonsensical.

It's a measure of how highly the manager rates Whelan that a like-for-like replacement wasn't deemed sufficient to ably cover the tasks that he performs and so, while McCarthy replaced Whelan, Robbie Brady was jettisoned in favour of Jonathan Walters.

Green got through much of the same thankless work that Whelan has done for years, but the difference between the result on Friday and those of last summer was the level of opposition.

Drenched

In the European Championships, it was a common sight to see Whelan drenched in sweat in the early part of the games as he tried to put out fires which were being created in the massive holes which were being left open in the Irish midfield.

Croatia, Spain and Italy were all capable of exploiting such openings, whereas, on Friday, any sort of pressure on the ball led to panic from the Swedish players as they launched balls in the direction of Ibrahimovic. If the Paris Saint-Germain striker ever fancies a move to join Whelan at Stoke City, Friday night's game would have been quite an audition.

The presence of McCarthy and, latterly Hoolahan, was also an enormous factor in helping Green to look good on the ball, given that both players enjoy being in possession and, unlike what we saw in Poland, both can position themselves to take a pass where otherwise only a long hoof forward would be possible.

Whelan is never likely to become a cause celebre in the manner of Andy Reid, James McClean or Hoolahan, but, as Trapattoni seems likely to recognise, he deserves better than to be portrayed as a plodder who is holding back the Irish team from a world of wondrous creativity.

The good news for Whelan is that it only seems to take one game to convince the doubters about your ability, although they reserve the right to alter their views in the length of time it takes to have a commercial break.

Whelan's presence over Green is unlikely to be a deciding factor in tomorrow night's game, but there aren't many players in the Ireland squad who have averaged 30 Premier League games for the last five seasons.

Unlike several others, it seems Trapattoni, at least, recognises his importance.

Irish Independent

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