Giovanni Trapattoni and Stephen Kelly might have been at loggerheads recently but, clearly taking the player’s word that he would continue to make himself available for selection for Ireland, the manager has named him in his extended squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria.
However, reports yesterday to the effect that the pair had kissed and made up were decidedly premature and based, not for the first time, on some confusion engendered by the manager’s initial comments on Kelly’s selection for the latest squad.
“We spoke a lot about this situation but now we concentrate only with focus on the next game,” said Trapattoni in answer to the opening question at his press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown. “Kelly said he is available and is in the squad.”
Then, asked if he’d apologised to the player, Trapattoni replied: “I don’t need to apologise. Kelly is available. He is in the squad. After, we decide who plays.”
Further questioning about Kelly brought interjections from the FAI’s senior press officer to insist that there would be nothing further said on the subject, by which point the interpretation of many radio, television and web reporters present was that manager and player had sorted out their differences since that raging war of words which erupted following last month’s friendly against Poland. Thus, the peace in our time tone of many of the reports filed yesterday.
However, print journalists working to later deadlines subsequently got clarification that there has, in fact, been no contact whatsoever between the two since the escalation of hostilities last month, when Trapattoni claimed Kelly had given him an I-play-or-I-walk ultimatum ahead of last year’s trip to the Faroe Islands and the Reading player had responded with a strongly worded statement in which he said he’d been “shocked and disgusted” by the manager’s “untrue and unwarranted” remarks And even though the Dubliner went so far as to say that he could not and would not “tolerate attempts to defame my commitment and loyalty to Ireland”, he did conclude his statement with the declaration that he would “continue as always to proudly be available for my country”.
It turns out that it was this line to which Trapattoni was referring when stating that Kelly had said he was available for selection, while the manager’s remark that the pair “spoke a lot about this situation” was, it was later clarified, a reference to a conversation which took place in the Faroe Islands in October.
“If I gave you the impression that I wouldn’t call him any more then yes, that was a misunderstanding,” Trapattoni said yesterday, but when asked if he expected Kelly to answer this latest call, candidly replied: “I don’t know if he’ll come or not.”
In short, the ball is now firmly back in Kelly’s court, and while it’s hard to see how the relationship between player and manager could still be anything other than, at very least, frosty, Trapattoni was at pains to suggest that he’s not one to bear a grudge.
“Stephen, like all the other players, is in the squad,” he said. “For me there is no problem. I have no reason to be prejudiced against any player.”
One player he is certainly not prejudiced against is Darron Gibson who, despite yet again declining to end his self-imposed international exile, will continue to remain firmly in the thoughts of the manager.
“I was in touch and Gibson said I am still not ready,” said Trapattoni “I saw him in England at the last game (v Norwich) and I said ‘I saw you very well’. He said, ‘thanks but at this moment I don’t wish to give controversy and I’m not ready at the moment’. I respect that. What can I do? (Smiling) I can’t beat him with a stick to come with us. Maybe at this moment he prefers not to come. But he didn’t say no, he is finished.”
Asserting, again with a smile, that a football manager needs “three bags of patience”, Trapattoni confirmed that he would continue to petition the Derry man.
“I call him,” he said. “I continue to follow him. I don’t know what he will wish to do but I will continue to call him.”
Gibson’s snub for his this latest call-up is likely to be all the more keenly felt by Trapattoni since Keith Andrews has been ruled out through injury and could even be gone for the rest of the season. Richard Dunne misses out too this time, of course, though Trapattoni quoted the player as saying that he will be back for Ireland in the future. Meanwhile, the manager’s relief that Marc Wilson and especially Seamus Coleman are back in harness was palpable.
“Coleman recovered, thank God,” he said. “I was afraid that he couldn’t come here but I saw him play well for Everton in their last game.”
With Sean St Ledger short of match fitness following his long injury lay-off, the early signs are that John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark will be asked to man the central defence in Stockholm, flanked on either side by Coleman and Wilson. And, stressing the need for experience in such a big away game, Trapattoni also dropped his heaviest hint yet that Robbie Keane will be in the starting line-up.
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