IT was hardly what you would call ideal matchday preparation.
Liam Lawrence has revealed it was only during the hours leading up to Tuesday’s victory over Andorra that he learned, by chance, of an apparent setback in his move from Stoke City to Portsmouth.
Lawrence was having lunch at the Irish team hotel in Portmarnock when, inadvertently, Robbie Keane broke the news – which he’d seen on the television – that the deal had broken down.
Says the midfielder: “I didn’t know anything until Keano said at dinner, ‘What’s going on?’ I said ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘I think you’d better ring your agent’. So I rang my agent and he said that he didn’t want to bother me while I was away.
“He said, ‘I didn’t want to wreck your head while you’re concentrating on tonight’s game’. The Portsmouth manager said that as well. I spoke to (Steve) Cotterill and he said, ‘I didn’t want to bother you with it’ so I left them to sort it out.” Lawrence was due to join Portsmouth on a permanent move in the deal which took Marc Wilson the other way but, at the eleventh hour, the transfer was stopped by the Football League on the grounds that the required paperwork had not been completed on time.
The matter now appears to have been resolved, however, with a loan deal agreed between the clubs which, all going well, will be made permanent in January.
The saga is just the latest bizarre twist in Lawrence’s recent rollercoaster history, as his club and international careers have grown distinctly out of sync.
Arguably Ireland’s man-of-the-match in the World Cup play-off in Paris, Lawrence has since cemented his place in the Trapattoni scheme of things with impressive outings in the opening two Euro qualifiers.
None of which, however, has been enough to prevent a clearly gifted player from tumbling out of the Premier League and into the Championship.
“Obviously, it’s a step down,” he accepts. “The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world but it’s a new challenge. I’ve been in the Championship before and done well. I’ve got to be playing regular football, especially if I want to come and perform for Ireland.
“When you’ve not played for three or four weeks, like I did before the Armenia game, it’s really hard work and I’m still only finding my feet now. I need to play, to get my fitness and sharpness so hopefully I’ll do that. And hopefully we can turn the club around.” That would be Pompey, the club which, in recent times, has been turned inside out and upside down in a footballing version of a prolonged soap opera.
“Trust me, it wasn’t an easy decision,” says Lawrence of his move to the south coast.
“I’ve had the family saying ‘Think long and hard.’ That’s why it went so late on the deadline day because I was to-ing and fro-ing all day and it was a real tough decision but the only decision that made it important for me was that I was going to play football. And that’s all I want to do. That’s all I need.’’
Did he consult Trap? “Yes, I did. Before we met up on Sunday and I rang him on the Friday or Saturday and said, ‘Look, I’m thinking about the Portsmouth move, is it going to be ok?’ and he said ‘Yeah, it’s no problem. As long as you’re playing regularly, you’ll always be ok.’
“I still believe I could have done something at Stoke but I wasn’t given the chance in the end. I had to go somewhere else. Do I have a point to prove? Definitely. I did that before when I left Sunderland. I went to Stoke and showed that I was a good player. I’ll do it again now.’’
And on the international scene Lawrence has no doubt whatsoever about the sincerity of Trapattoni’s stated belief that Ireland can go on to win this group.
“He does believe that,” Lawrence said. “He is always positive and always confident because he believes in us. It’s exciting times and if we get a good result in the next game, against Russia, I think we’ve got a hell of a chance.”
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