Tuesday 20 March 2018

Trapattoni: Shane has Long way to go

Trapattoni believes Ireland's rising star still has room for improvement despite lucrative £7m switch to West Brom

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

SHANE LONG will be a Premier League player this weekend after securing a deal that will set him up financially for life, but the Tipperary native has a bit to go before he is the finished product.

That's certainly the opinion of Giovanni Trapattoni, with the Ireland manager stressing that the £7m West Brom capture, who will sign a deal worth in the region of £25,000-a-week -- that's over £5m in wages over four years -- must seize the opportunity to become a better player.

The Italian feels that the 24-year-old has improved considerably over the past three years, yet he has consistently stressed that the powerful front man has plenty of developing left to do. After all, it's only 12 months since his status at Reading appeared far from secure.

In that context, he believes that Long's lucrative move is not so much the end of a journey, but merely another step along the way

Despite covetous glances from clubs in the upper end of the Premier League market -- Liverpool among them -- the former Cork City youth is moving to a team who are seeking to shed the yo-yo tag.

Baggies manager Roy Hodgson has been searching for a striker all summer, and Robbie Keane was one of the individuals on his radar. Making Long a club record signing is a huge vote of confidence in the youngster. By the same token, it brings pressure.

After scoring 25 times for Reading in the Championship last year, Long will be expected to make a sizeable impact. He did score top-flight goals with the Royals, but that was in the role of supersub and understudy. This is a different test.

Things have always come naturally to the Gortnahoe native. He came to serious football relatively late in life. In Tipperary, he was a minor hurling star for whom greatness was predicted.

But when his aptitude for the 'foreign' game became apparent, he was brought to Cork by Pat Dolan, and was then captured by Reading when they swooped for Kevin Doyle and found another rough diamond that was worth a punt. A €20,000 bargain.

Until then, Long was down the pecking order of emerging Irish talent. At underage level, he was initially behind Dubliners Anthony Stokes and Adam Rooney, and Corkman Billy Clarke. He has since flourished to become the pick of that crop.

His critics say that for all his pace, strength and athleticism, the affable character must work on his game outside the box. Trapattoni selected Simon Cox ahead of him for the June qualifier in Macedonia, proferring that the incumbent West Brom front man -- who ironically left Reading because he was behind Long in the pecking order -- had the ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play.

When asked about this week's developments, the 72-year-old repeated the assertion yesterday.

"I think he can improve more," said Trapattoni. "Yes, I think he can play. But, for example, there are situations. When you see Cox, he looks before he receives the ball, it is important. He knows his position.

"There are other players... they have habits. They are fast, but sometimes they need to wait. I think in the Premier League, he (Long) can learn this.

"Shane is good in the air, and has no fear. That's very important. It's important to be strong. But he also needs to understand better how to help his colleagues, and when he's sure he can go and make a run.

"That is a very important quality in the modern game; to know when you can help your team-mate. He needs to understand a bit more of what he can do -- he is young. That is the reason.

"Before, you have asked me about Caleb Folan," continued Trapattoni, unprompted. "People say 'Why pick Folan?' It's because Folan, he understands the moment, he understands the situation. Shane is younger and must learn.

"He has improved already, and he can shoot with his left, with his right, and can head the ball, and also defend the ball well. I think he just needs to improve other areas of his game."

The choice of club was pivotal in that regard. Trapattoni can barely disguise his cynicism with respect to the preferred style of play in England.

He is happy with West Brom, though, as their manager Hodgson has campaigned in Italy and they have mutual friends. Ergo, his confidence that Long's new club boss will show him a different way. "Roy was in Italy," said Trapattoni, "There is another interpretation of football. There is English football, and there is international football."

Long is a bright fella, and will be aware that he has plenty of rungs left to climb on the ladder. For inspiration, he need only look to Wolves' Doyle, who is still improving at the age of 27.

Lining out for a club in a perpetual struggle has made the Wexford man into a better all-round performer, although it has come at the expense of his goal bonuses.

Hodgson is a fan of a 4-4-2 formation, so the indications are that Long will avoid the rigours of ploughing a lone furrow alone on a regular basis.

That said, he produced arguably his best display for Ireland in that berth against a battle-hardened and high-quality Urugayan defence in March. A rearguard that proved its mettle in last summer's World Cup and last month's Copa America struggled to cope with his no-holds-barred approach.

Nigerian Peter Odemwingie, the star turn for West Brom in their fight against the drop last term, can also operate on the wing, so the new boy may well end up the focal point for the Baggies in the battle that lies ahead, starting off with the visit of Manchester United to the Hawthorns this weekend.

Whatever happens, he will be under severe scrutiny, but he will have financial security.

Football is a fickle game. A year ago, Long was the target for a section of Reading boo-boys and internet hardmen who thought he was in a comfort zone. He turned that situation around to come out stronger.

Hitting the jackpot presents a new challenge. Many footballers his age have fallen into the trap of landing a big-money deal and thinking they've reached the top of the world.

The mature response from Long is to realise that, with studious application, this is potentially only the tip of the iceberg.

Irish Independent

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