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Stephen Ireland


Stephen Ireland has withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland squad to face Germany and Cyprus over the next four days. The news is another blow to Steve Staunton as he prepares to try and get some morale boosting points on board although it is a case of too little too late for Ireland who are realistically out of the reckoning to qualify.

Staunton has faced an unending cycle of criticism from the media in Ireland. Performances have been poor in games that should have been easily won by a team with Ireland’s quality of player. Cyprus and San Marino each inflicted misery on Ireland, while the performances against Slovakia and the Czechs last month effectively ended any hope of qualification for another major tournament.

However, in his defence, Staunton has provided great support to Stephen Ireland over the debacle of his withdrawal half-way through last months qualifying  games. The Man City midfielder has been criticised over his handling of the episode albeit despite the fact that he clearly had issues that would have affected any player, or any person for that matter. The way Ireland went about withdrawing however, was unfair on Staunton, a coach who has given him not only a lot of support, but has also been a strong influence on Ireland’s rise to prominence as a quality midfielder. Ireland’s goals for his country have certainly gone some way to paying back that debt, however Staunton can feel aggrieved that the player has decided to withdraw from the International games this week ahead at a time when Staunton needs him more than ever.

Whether it is a question of embarrassment or a falling out with senior figures in the Republic of Ireland setup remains to be seen but  with Richard Dunne, his fellow countryman, captain of Manchester City, there would surely have been an opportunity to garner some support before returning to the International fold.

Ireland stated today: I have thought long and hard about whether I would do my country and myself justice if I joined up with the squad. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I would on this occasion. The support I have received from Mr Staunton and the FAI has been excellent and everybody at Manchester City has also been superb. However, I do not believe I can make a positive contribution to our efforts to qualify.

This statement suggests one, or possibly both of the following is applicable: (1) Ireland believes that there is little chance of qualification and that going back to the Ireland camp to endure repeated questioning about his personal life and what happened last month is something he would prefer to avoid given that the games are almost meaningless with regard to the outcome of the group. (2): Ireland feels that he needs to be at home to support his girlfriend.

Both are reasonable objections to joining the Republic of Ireland camp and yet Stephen Ireland has chosen to avoid the issue by issuing a vague statement about ‘doing himself justice’. This is especially strange given that he felt able to play in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on Sunday, and certainly did himself justice, turning in another admirable performance.

Sven Goran Eriksson: This is disappointing for everybody. Steve Staunton and I have been working together to help Stephen through a period which he is clearly finding very difficult. We together have left no stone unturned in our efforts to convince him he has so much to offer his country and that international football will greatly benefit his long term career. I hope that Stephen will soon feel stable enough to resume his international career.

Those words seem to suggest that Eriksson is unhappy with the player’s attitude. Ireland has notoriously fallen out with coaches before including Rep of Ireland’s former coach Brian Kerr who vowed never to work with him again after a falling out at under-age level. True to his word, Kerr failed to pick him for any Ireland squad under his charge and Stephen Ireland today finds himself at risk of enduring ostracism from the International fold again, this time at the hands of a manager who has been more than understanding of his situation, but is unlikely to be so generous again in the future.


Categories: Euro 2008, Football, Ireland
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