“Stats are one of the worst things that has happened to football,” he says. “Stats? If I started my career again I think I could go through it with 100% possession by passing sideways and backwards. It’s a myth. You shouldn’t have any stats except goalscoring.”
And if you really want to tip the great man over the edge, try raising the subject of the holding midfielder. “I don’t believe in the defensive midfielder, I think it’s a myth,” he snorts.
“Have you ever seen a player who could protect the back four? How can you protect the back four? It’s the width of the pitch. And I always believe anyway if the midfield player got more on the ball than some of them do, then you don’t have to defend as much. I don’t believe in the designated holding player because you find they don’t get into the game a lot. Go and score a goal, get on the ball.”
All of which leads us to one of current Irish football’s most persistent and perplexing questions: when will the real James McCarthy stand up? And, on that one, even Ireland’s leading football analyst admits to being as baffled as everyone else.
“I don’t know what goes through James McCarthy’s head,” he says. “He’s got terrific ability. The 40-yard ball he passed to Walters against Gibraltar: he has the ability to do that. Trapattoni used to talk about ‘personality’ but he doesn’t impose himself. I don’t know what it is. Because he has the ability to do the things that need to be done. He’s a good passer. But if you don’t demand the ball, the game passes you by. Demanding the ball means you make the ball come to you. A lot of players wait until the ball comes to them, but you have to make the ball come to you. He doesn’t do that.
“Sometimes when you see the full-backs on the ball, you see McCarthy and Whelan in lovely positions but looking around, and he actually points a lot. I always have a thing with people pointing: ‘go and get the ball yourself’. He has more ability than any of the other midfielders to do what needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane reckons Robbie Keane will have found his half-time substitution against Georgia hard to stomach.
“Players say ‘you get dragged at half time’, that’s what they say, and Robbie wouldn’t have liked that,” says Kilbane. “He’ll be hurt.”
However, Kilbane believes the veteran striker still has a contribution to make to the Irish cause, if more likely in future from off the bench.
“Two goals the other night (in Faro) suggest he’s not finished,” he says. “And when he came on against Scotland, when we were struggling after a good 50-60 minutes, he looked the real quality player on the pitch. Robbie still has that class, that edge to the game that we need.”
And with Germany soon calling, Kilbane also makes the point Keane’s global reputation is something that can still mess with opponents’ heads.
“Definitely, I’ve done it playing against old Croatian teams. You’d see Prosinecki and you’d be thinking ‘oh, he’s still in the side’. And that’ll definitely be the case with Robbie and all the goals he’s scored. It stands for a lot within the mindset of other players. Against Georgia, Robbie was a bit isolated, he couldn’t get into the game but there’s defenders with him constantly trying to stop him and that leaves space for one or two other players.”