Saturday 17 March 2018

'Trap should've gone after Euros – people need to stand up to this'

Ian Harte
Ian Harte
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

FITTINGLY, the sun was shining on Ian Harte last week. A mid-season club trip to Dubai reminded him of the perks that come with life in the upper echelons of his profession, benefits that some footballers only appreciate when they are no longer available.

The glamour of the Premier League comes with a certain inevitability. Generally, the rise is followed by the fall. Few succeed in rising again, but, at 35, Harte has bucked the trend. His return to the top flight after an eight-year absence is a triumph against the odds, including those which he sometimes calculated in his own head.

He was 31 when he signed for Carlisle in March 2009 and little fanfare accompanied his arrival into League One. The consensus was that the best days had passed. Instead, a period which he describes as the "most enjoyable" of his career lay over the horizon, with a £70,000 move to Reading providing him with the opportunity to aim for the stars again.

When they achieved their goal last May by winning the Championship, Harte was voted the best left-back in his division for the third season in a row. His revolution was complete. "The team we had at Leeds was special, but we never won anything," he explains. "That's why the medal meant so much."

Sharing the second coming with his family has added a lustre to the resurgence. He is a doting father of three children, Kaia (9), Lily (6) and Jenson (19 months), and Kaia's interest in football has grown to the extent that he describes her as football mad. "She knows what's going on now," the Drogheda native says, breaking into laughter. "I realised that when she came up to me and said: 'All the best against Chelsea tomorrow Dad... and can you get me John Terry's shirt'?"

She's put in another request ahead of tonight's FA Cup showdown with Manchester United. "Wayne Rooney's top," he chuckles. "I didn't get on the pitch when we played them in November, so hopefully I get the nod."

The upshot is that Kaia and Lily enjoy it when he drops them off to school these days now that he has an increased profile.

"The girls used to think that I just had a job and that was it," he says. "This season was different when the other kids at the school knew who I was and started to pay attention. They liked that."

* * * * *

His children's classmates know who he is now and so, too, does Giovanni Trapattoni, although Harte is adamant that the Italian was slow to learn of his identity. Earlier this month, Harte caused a stir when he used his Twitter account to let people know what he thought of his country's manager.

The catalyst was a flurry of queries asking if he had retired from international football. In the space of 140 characters, Harte emphatically confirmed it wasn't the case, while repeating his 2011 claim that the Italian didn't even know he was Irish when another player inquired if the 63-times capped World Cup 2002 squad member was in his thoughts.

"That's 100pc true. He didn't have a clue I was Irish. I'm not just saying that. He blatantly wasn't aware."

So that's why he called Trapattoni a clown? "I tweeted what I did out of frustration," Harte says. "I'm not for one minute saying that I should be in the team. I just think that with my experience, what I've done in my career, and where I'm playing at the moment – in the Premier League, against the best footballers in the world – then I should be given a chance. That's all I've wanted – a chance."

His anger with the Trapattoni regime extends far beyond his own situation – he is keen to stress that point. The more he talks about the overall picture, the more it annoys him.

He watched Euro 2012 in a Sky Sports studio and struggled to find the appropriate words to sum up his disappointment. "I didn't want to be criticising the lads," he sighs. "But where could you find positives? It was men versus boys. We'd lost everything we had under Mick McCarthy. We used to rattle teams, get in their faces and make it horrible for them but we lacked all of those qualities. It's not the players' fault. It's the system that has been drilled into them and the team that the manager picked. He should have gone after that.

"I'm a passionate Irishman and I just think it's killing Irish football at the moment. He's stuck in his ways, and he seems to have his favourite XI and if they're fit, they will play, no matter how they are doing at their clubs. The other lads that are doing well for their clubs? What do they have to do to get the opportunity?

"It's not only me. Alex Pearce is playing Premier League football (with Reading) and the manager decides to go and pick someone like Darren O'Dea, who is playing in the American league.

"Something has happened with Shane Long; he should have started in the Euros. He's been unbelievable for West Brom and he's hardly been given a sniff. Playing Simon Cox on the wing? What's he doing playing a striker on the wing? There have been problems with other players too."

That brings him onto the subject of Stephen Kelly, his new Reading colleague, who felt the force of a public Trapattoni dressing-down in the aftermath of the Poland game earlier this month. With reference to a row ahead of the Faroe Islands game in October, the Italian insinuated that Kelly was seeking demands that he would start before reporting for international duty. It prompted the mild-mannered Dubliner to release a furious statement accusing Trapattoni of defaming his character. The FAI also took a dim view of the manager's comments and Harte is unequivocal on the matter. In his mind, it should be the final straw.

"It's a joke," he says. "I've seen Stephen Kelly's phone, pretty much every one of the Reading lads have seen it, and we're thinking: 'What's going on'? If the press were to see the full text, that would be the end of Trap. That would be the end of Giovanni Trapattoni.

"Stephen has a text from Trapattoni saying, 'We're going to rest you and bring young lads into the squad.'

"Stephen says: 'Well, I'm a bit disappointed, I would love to come over and play in the game, but I understand if you want to do that, you're the manager. I accept your decision. I want to come and play.'

"Stephen was told a young lad would be playing and then he puts Paul McShane at right-back. He (Kelly) is devastated and then the manager comes out and says what he does in the press. It's hard for Stephen to respond because he's pretty much digging his own grave.

"Disagreements happen in dressing-rooms. Players can fall out with managers. People get on the phone or meet up and sort it out, nip it in the bud. It doesn't need to come out in the press. It's forgotten about. But this thing with Stephen? It's crazy.

"Look," he continues, "you look at what Trapattoni has done in his career and all the trophies he's won and you can't question that. It's an amazing record. But we are where we are. That's the past.

"When I was in League One, people weren't talking about the fact I'd played in the Champions League. And I couldn't make an argument for being in the Ireland squad then. Things have changed for me over the past couple of years and you've got to move with the times. He should have gone after Euro 2012 and given someone else a chance, but then I don't know if it would have cost too much money to pay him off. I just think people need to start standing up to this. It's a disgrace what's happening."

* * * * *

Discussing the national team temporarily darkens the mood of a man who is in good spirits. There's nothing else to complain about. He has moved his family to Wokingham, 10km east of Reading and 45km west of London. "The perfect distance away."

His former Irish team-mate Wayne Henderson, who works with Impact Sports Management, acts as his adviser and provides valuable support.

Meanwhile, in Brian McDermott, he has a manager that he trusts. "He's worked miracles off a small budget," he adds, crediting the 51-year-old for fostering a dressing-room spirit that has manifested itself with a series of late comebacks since the turn of the year.

It has coincided with Harte's restoration to the starting line-up after a two-month spell behind Nicky Shorey in the pecking order. Experience told him to be patient. He worked hard, and the door opened over Christmas. The wand, otherwise known as his left foot, remains effective and his distribution will be vital in the battle against the drop. A cup run would be pleasant too and the training camp in the Middle Eastern heat has recharged the batteries ahead of this evening's clash.

His last outing at Old Trafford was a few weeks short of a decade ago, so his desire to figure against the champions-elect is about more than just adding to Kaia's shirt collection. In the uncertain spell that followed his sojourn in Spain and a stop-start spell at Sunderland, these opportunities looked to have slipped from his reach. Now he wants to grab every single one.

"The last three years have been amazing," he enthuses. At a time when so many of his contemporaries speak of their football life in the past tense, this mind is focused on the future.

Irish Independent

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