Martin O’Neill has reacted angrily to the allegation that, to use his own word, he “prostituted” himself in an effort to get Jack Grealish to declare for Ireland.
In the fallout from the Aston Villa player’s decision to pledge his allegiance to England, one Sunday newspaper columnist described the Irish management’s efforts as “whoring after players” and charged that there was something “utterly demeaning about the way Martin O’Neill and the FAI have traipsed after Grealish”.
However, speaking after the Irish squad had completed its first training session of the week in Abbotstown yesterday, ahead of Thursday’s Euro qualifier against Germany at the Aviva, O’Neill — who raised the press comment himself — was clearly anxious to answer the criticism.
“I think contrary to what was written yesterday, by a journalist, far from it, I never chased it, I never chased Jack Grealish at all. I never prostituted myself in any way, shape or form trying to get Jack Grealish. I think Jack Grealish and his father would readily admit that. In fact, actually, I was accused of the other thing, of not chasing it up — so I didn’t do that.
“Jack Grealish had a decision to make. Jack Grealish was born in England. His father was born in England and therefore he made a decision to play for England, so that’s it. It’s absolutely and utterly his and his father’s decision to do that and I left it in their hands entirely to do that.”
Even when asked to measure the blow to Irish football of losing Grealish in terms of his potential to develop into a big player, O’Neill’s initial response was to revisit the specific accusation made against him and the FAI.
“Lads, you’ll have to make your mind up about this,” he told reporters from the daily papers, “whether, as some journalists are saying, you go and prostitute yourself about taking players who were not actually born in the country. The article, as it turns out, said that it was seen to be OK in Jack Charlton’s day because the depth of the squad in the English team was stronger — so it seemed a bit of a contradiction, to be perfectly honest. But, at the end of it all, if those are the rules at this minute and every other country is doing it, as they seem to be doing, then fine.
“Naturally, I would love if every single one of these players [were] a bit like Celtic [the 1967 European Cup-winning side] where they were born 30 miles from Glasgow. It would be nice to know that everyone was born and bred here but that may not necessarily be the case. But that doesn’t prevent them from wanting to and being eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland so, in the long term, who is to say?
“Jack has really good talent, is a really fine player and of course, it’s a disappointment to lose out on there but hopefully it’s not the end of the world.”
Asked if he thought the influence of the player’s agent had been a factor in Grealish’s decision, O’Neill replied: “No, I don’t think that at all.” And he confirmed he had been informed of the outcome to a protracted saga by the player’s father, Kevin Grealish, before the news was made public last week.
“It was a simple phonecall he made, just about 20 minutes before they were announcing it on the Aston Villa website or something like this here,” said O’Neill. “Fine. Good luck. And there was nothing more, just a very brief conversation to say he had decided to go with England. Fine.”
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