While admitting he harbours reservations about Fifa’s eligibility rules — which allow players who meet certain criteria to switch countries if they haven’t already been capped in a competitive senior international — Martin O’Neill reckons it would be “foolish” if he didn’t use the same rules to maximise the Republic of Ireland’s player pool.
“At the minute those are the rules and whether I like them or not, I am going to go with them,” he said.
Questioned about the always controversial issue in Dublin yesterday, O’Neill pointed out: “Jack [Charlton] used the rules to his advantage and in those days I don’t think anyone complained because the Republic hadn’t had any real success in a long time and Jack brought success. If he brought success with Ray Houghton having a Scottish accent, who really cared?
“You talk about the ethics and the process of eligibility: if other countries are doing it and, because you had a stand on it, you didn’t do it to your detriment, I think people would probably pronounce you as rather foolish perhaps. If you are not stretching it beyond belief, well, from the viewpoint of trying to improve our team, I would use it.”
O’Neill declined to speak about individuals but conceded some players with dual eligibility might well choose the Republic, primarily because they were not likely to get a senior cap for England or another country.
“That could well be the case in certain circumstances, absolutely,” he said. “I know it seems to cheapen it somewhere along the way but if everybody abides by the rules then that’s fine. We don’t have a phenomenal choice of player so I will go with it.”
Mark Noble of West Ham and Curtis Davies of Hull City are two high-profile players who could make the switch although, in recent times, both have indicated a reluctance to declare for the Republic.
Among other players on the radar who could play for Ireland are Kyle Naughton (Spurs), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea, currently on loan at MK Dons), Nathan Redmond (Norwich) and the Keane brothers, Michael and Will, (Manchester United).
Asked if it should be up to him or the player to make the first move, O’Neill said: “I’d like the players to have some enthusiasm about wanting to do it. I might glean that from other sources — and I probably would do — but eventually when I get to talk to the player, I’d like him to be bursting with enthusiasm. If he isn’t, well, I can’t say that’s the end. I might have to do a bit of persuading but if I’m having to do an awful lot of persuading, I’m not wildly sure it’s worth it.”
O’Neill went on to say he would apply the same sort of logic to international exile Stephen Ireland — “Absolutely, absolutely” — but added that he has yet to make contact with the player, although the Republic of Ireland’s new management team have watched the Cobh man in action for Stoke.
“Roy [Keane] has been lucky in the sense that some of the games he’s been to Stephen has played,” said O’Neill. “The game I went to, he came on and it was hard for me to make an assessment. Of course I listen to what Roy has to say but I haven’t made communication with him [Ireland] at the moment. You might think, ‘what have I been doing?’ but I was always going to wait until the new year to let the players — who had a dose of me for 10 days — get myself and Keane out of their system again, and get on with their club affairs.”
O’Neill said he would not discount an international comeback for veteran keeper Shay Given, who has recently returned to action having joined Middlesbrough on loan from Aston Villa.
“I haven’t spoken to Shay but I would like to at some stage, if he says ‘I’m back’,” said the Derryman. “I may be a million miles out of my ground because he may have no intention of coming back, but I certainly wouldn’t discount it if I’d had that conversation and he was thinking about coming back.”
While O’Neill was due to have further discussions this week with FAI boss John Delaney about finalising his backroom team and other issues, the manager suggested it might be better to see who Ireland are pitted against in the European Championship qualifying draw before deciding on the summer friendly fixture programme.
O’Neill confirmed he will attend the Euro draw in Nice in February, following which he will be back in the dugout for the friendly in Dublin against Serbia in March. It is also expected that he will join Roy Keane in working for ITV at the World Cup in Brazil during the summer.
O’Neill said he had watched the Keane/Vieira documentary Best Of Enemies, spoke to Roy about it and decided that, from here on in, “whatever he says goes”. With tongue still firmly in cheek, he added that Keane had felt the programme was a bit cheesy. “I totally agree,” said O’Neill, “but please don’t print that. I think he was joking.”
It also emerged yesterday that an office has been provided for the manager at FAI headquarters which O’Neill says he expects to use at least a couple of days every month. Asked if Keane had also been given an office, O’Neill replied with a grin: “The office is big enough. He could easily share with me.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved