You probably can’t blame Martin O’Neill for missing out on recruiting the future of the Irish midfield, but it seems that you can absolutely condemn him for the disrespect shown to the most-capped Irish central midfielder of all-time.
Back in August, the now-departed Ireland manager made out that Glenn Whelan’s time with the Republic of Ireland was done. He would be brought back as captain against Northern Ireland in November and given some sort of ceremonial send-off.
At the press conference previewing the clash, the former Stoke stalwart spoke, as he always did, with great pride about representing his country.
He outlined that, as he never picked when he would come and play for Ireland, he would never dream of retiring either, which should have been enough for Martin O’Neill to cut the charade short at that very moment and thank him for being more of a professional than the Derry native ever was himself.
As O’Neill continued to act indifferently to media and those who questioned his shortcomings out of passion for their country, Whelan stood up and faced the music every time he played poorly or a side he led did.
He didn’t shy away after the failings of Euro 2012, he didn’t bite when their performances were questioned – this is because he wasn’t trying to self-preserve or keep himself in mind for other jobs along the way.
There has never been someone prouder to wear an Irish jersey than Glenn Whelan, and there has never been a manager who felt the gig to utilise that collective pride was so below them. Glenn Whelan coming back signified that O’Neill’s successor understands those who love playing for their country.
In an era where international football is just a marketing window for so many, Whelan and his current boss highlight just how little the former boss thought of his role.
O’Neill’s modus operandi was seemingly that he was a man-manager and a motivator; that his interpersonal skills made up for a lack of training ground insight. But the revelation that Whelan is back in Mick McCarthy’s squad suggests that Whelan never once even considered the idea that he wouldn’t be playing on.
And, worse still, if O’Neill thought Whelan couldn’t contribute more than Cyrus Christie could in a diamond, well – I wish Nottingham Forest all the best with their footballing endeavours over the next while.
Glenn Whelan is everything that Martin O’Neill wasn’t, you see.
Whelan was classy, he gave it everything he had, he had an affinity with the fans, and he made up for his occasional shortcomings with effort. Ireland might be struggling for midfielders, but the inclusion of Glenn Whelan in an Ireland squad is magical – and that’s for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he can still move the ball for us. He’s an excellent sitting midfielder who can spray passes from a small area of the pitch he’ll need to cover. Secondly, his experience would be invaluable to the younger crop that Mick McCarthy will lean on, and finally, the increased relations with the FAI can only benefit the idea of Whelan being part of a coaching staff going forward.
Which he absolutely should be.
Mick McCarthy is a traditionalist. He understands the passion of supporters and what they want from their side. Whelan has always been dependable, and McCarthy can be in no doubt that he will put everything on the line.
He’s in the ever-expanding initial squad list for the upcoming qualifiers, and you would expect him to be in the 23-man squad, given that there would be little to no point including him at all if he wasn’t to make the final cut.
While this incident probably won’t be any issue to Whelan himself given his laid-back nature, it certainly signifies the change of guard at the Republic of Ireland right now. We’re moving on from someone who couldn’t have cared less, to someone who couldn’t have cared more during his time with the country previously.
Glenn Whelan being the torch that’s now passing from a sterile reign to a new era – as one of the most respected Irish internationals of all time – is just a nice little exclamation mark on the difference between managers and the respect they have for the players who represent both them and their nation.