The latest in the Stephen Ireland saga appeared to come to a conclusion on Monday - for now. Ireland’s name was missing, once again, from the squad to play Bulgaria and Italy in a double header, starting with the Bulgarians’ visit to Croke Park on Saturday, March 28.
Ireland, who plies his trade in the Premier League with Manchester City, said in an interview last weekend: “Giovanni Trapattoni and Liam Brady have said they have contacted me again. Well, they haven’t, not directly. That’s all I can say.”
He went on to reiterate his belief that he is happy to remain in international exile as Trap’s door edges ever closer to World Cup qualification. “I know the Irish thing will take longer to fix. I just think I am quite happy as I am right now,” added the 22-year-old.
“When I first got into the Irish squad when I was 17, I was so proud. It’s not that I am not patriotic, and I know much of this is my fault. But it’s sad the way some people still want to criticize me. Never say never, though.”
Trapattoni has claimed he only wants to deal with players who want to play for their country from here on, but his attempts to kill the story look doomed.
The Stephen Ireland question raised its head again at a press conference last Monday when sponsors Eircom launched their new www.soccerrepublic.ie website and presented Trap with a cake in honor of his 70th birthday on St. Patrick’s Day.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for a journalist to ask Trapattoni if indeed he had made contact with Ireland in the recent past.
“Why?” he replied with a touch of anger in his voice, and then added, “In the newspaper, the day before, he said that he wishes not to come back.
“I said before that maybe in the future, or when he finishes his career, he might have regrets. He might say, ‘When I was young, why did I not play with my national team?’ I meet now ex-Italian players, when they are 40-year-olds, they say, ‘Mister, when I was young, I didn’t think about what was important.’
“He is not my son. Also, I know very well Mark Hughes, his coach, and he said, ‘I think he’s not ready.’ I think he is not ready to come back so you have to respect the team. We have other players.
“My feeling is he will not come back. Stephen is not my son. I cannot force him. My feeling is he wishes not to come back. I have said also that now it’s up to him. Ok, it’s clear.
“I asked him 10 months ago why he won’t come back. I spoke with him, but he was looking down rather than in my eyes. I think that, obviously, not in the pitch but as a person he is very shy. I don’t know. I give him confidence, I give him trust.”
For now, World Cup qualification is Trap’s only goal . He told www.fifa.com, “I think we can make it, but we will also need some luck, both in our matches and in terms of the fitness of our key players.
“I can’t tell you for sure that we will be there I’m afraid, but I am confident.” As for the Italy game next month Trapattoni said, “I had many, many people contacting me after that draw was made, and they all told me the same: that it is not so important Ireland wins these games.
“Honestly though, I was very happy. I consider myself lucky to be facing Italy. It’s an honor. It will be a strange situation for me because I am a proud Italian. But I do expect that I will be a little emotional when the national anthems are played.”