Stephen Kenny is at one with the man he will succeed as Irish manager in holding the view that any cap at senior level should be enough to copper-fasten a player’s international future.
The U21 manager also indicated yesterday that he is not a big fan of eligibility based on a period of residency, as currently allowed under Fifa rules.
Following the blow of Declan Rice’s defection to England, Mick McCarthy argued that friendly games should count the same as competitive ones in defining international allegiance, and Kenny has made it clear that he is of the same opinion.
Indeed, he would even back lowering the threshold to U21 level.
“Yeah, I would be in favour of that as well but I do think once you play for a senior international team there definitely shouldn’t be that option to change, no matter what the country,” he says.
“It hasn’t happened that much probably, obviously Diego Costa (who switched from Brazil to Spain) was the high-profile one.
“At the same time I probably wouldn’t be in favour of the residency rule being expanded in football. The five-year residency rule. It wouldn’t be my preference that a player could come in, live here for four or five years, and play for us. I don’t think that’s right either. I don’t think that’s the true essence of international football.”
Asked if he felt that Joe Schmidt shouldn’t be awarding caps under similar circumstances, Kenny replied. “No, I’m not saying that — it’s the same with every team in rugby. But I don’t think football should...”
Follow that route? “No. It’s a personal opinion.”
Even if the Declan Rice saga has confirmed that there can be no guarantee a player will ultimately choose to play senior football for the country, Kenny thinks it’s still right to try to integrate such candidates at underage level.
“I think it is, you’ve seen that with James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady for example. You’ve seen that in the past. What we’ve got to have is good structure between U15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and the first-team manager, so they know who the best players are, their character and everything early, and if they are good enough to play them in the first team.
“Ultimately, if someone doesn’t want to play for you they’ll decide that anyway. It’s an interesting debate and there are arguments on both sides as to whether you should accelerate someone quicker or not.”
Kenny is busy preparing the ground for the unveiling of his first squad next week, ahead of Ireland’s opening U21 European Championship qualifier against Luxembourg on March 24.
Unfortunately, he already knows that he will be minus a few, with Michael Obafemi and Aaron Connolly definitely ruled out and Troy Parrott doubtful with a toe injury.
Yesterday, Kenny was continuing his heavy workload by flying to England to see West Ham’s Conor Coventry in action for the club’s U23 side, after last Friday watching Leo O’Connor and Adam Idah as Manchester United hosted Norwich. And his intensive scouting has thrown up one striking statistical oddity.
“In the years (of players born in) 1998 or 1999 we have no centre-forwards or wingers in England,” he said. “We actually have none. They’ve all come back. Aaron Drinan was in Ipswich but he’s gone back to Waterford. He was the last one. All my players should be 1998 or 1999 but we don’t have any in England. But we do have eight centre-halves.”
However, anxious not to paint the picture black, Kenny was quick to add: “We have a really good younger group who are exciting, an interesting group of about six good, young attacking players who are between 2000 and 2002.”
Before rushing for his flight to London, the former Dundalk manager had just enough time to give his thoughts on the novel look to the current League of Ireland Premier Division table.
“It’s early in the season, but Bohemians have had a great start,” he said. “It’s an unusual situation that three of the top five teams are managed by my former assistants; Declan Devine, Alan Reynolds and Vinny Perth. I think Vinny will do a great job at Dundalk given time and I think he has got a great squad there.”