Ten days on from Giovanni Trapattoni’s take off at Dublin Airport, we find ourselves in the footballing equivalent of Limbo, if that term has any meaning anymore outside of computer games and exotic dancing. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I can even remember the correct meaning myself: was Limbo the one you could never get out of and Purgatory the one where you had to serve your time before moving on to the Promised Land or was it the other way around? I’m pretty sure I knew all this back in the days when a green catechism was an essential part of the school curriculum but, if any confirmation were needed that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, it arrived this week with the startling news that David McCallum aka Illya Kuryakin – one of the men from UNCLE – turned 80.
While folk of a certain age will doubtless join me in weeping salt tears of despair, I sense I might be losing my younger readership at this point so, for the purposes of clarity, let’s just agree to think of Limbo as somewhere neither here nor there – a bit like Limerick Junction, if you will – and press on with main theme of the day.
FAI boss John Delaney has certainly not been giving any hostages to fortune in stating that, on the one hand, there’s no urgency about appointing a new manager since Ireland’s next meaningful competitive game is a year away and, on the other, allowing that in an ideal world the successor to Giovanni Trapattoni would be installed ahead of next month’s encounters with Germany and Kazakhstan. That’s plenty of wriggle room, right there.
In fact, there is a deadline of some significance approaching at the end of next week when clubs will have to be notified of the players being called into the Irish squad for those October World Cup qualifiers. John Giles, among many others, will be relieved to learn that there will be no going back to the days of the infamous ‘selection committee’ to carry out that task. If a new manager is not installed over the next few days, it will fall to a caretaker gaffer to compile that list. And he will also do so in the full understanding that he could still end up handing over the reins before the games actually take place, if the successor to Giovanni Trapattoni is ready to take over in the shorter rather than long term.
Despite the interest expressed in the vacant position by various contenders, the indications are still strong that the job is effectively Martin O’Neill’s to reject or accept. However, it being the case, in football as in everything else, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, I personally wouldn’t be ruling out the second coming of Big Mick until we actually see O’Neill sitting before us at his grand unveiling.
In any event, whatever way all this pans out, one thing became clear this week: the new man will have the option of restoring Darron Gibson to the ranks.
I was among the journalists present in Manchester on Wednesday when the self-imposed exile finally put forward his side of the story on Trap, the Euros and everything else. Mighty fine copy it made for too, even if I suspect it wasn’t the final word on the subject of the Derry man’s vexed relationship with the Italian.
In truth, I wouldn’t have had any sympathy for Gibson’s decision to at least temporarily turn his back on playing for his country, however provocative towards him he felt the manager had been. Gibson’s argument is that he was declining to show up for Trap, rather than his country, but since the result was the same, the motive hardly makes a great deal of difference to anyone but himself.
Trapattoni, being the arch-pragmatist that he is, made efforts to get Gibson back on board for the World Cup campaign and it’s in that same spirit of the greater good that I can say I’m glad the player has changed his tune now — all the more so, indeed, precisely because the original version grated on the ears.
Let’s face it: as controversial decisions go, Roy Keane’s temporary retirement from international football was a hell of a lot more divisive than Darron Gibson’s but, once Brian Kerr had convinced Keano to return, the past was largely forgotten in the popular collective desire to see Ireland’s best players on the pitch in pursuit of qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In the end, Thierry Henry – for the first time but definitely not the last – helped put paid to an Irish dream but at least Roy Keane’s participation in that game in Dublin, which proved to be his last for his country, meant that his international career ended on a note of on-field combat rather than off-field strife.
One hopes for the same for Darron Gibson but, for now, like the rest of us, he can only play the waiting game.