“He’s in the bag”, the Manchester United scout might have been thinking after he’d spent five days outlining the benefits of Old Trafford to teenage prospect Anthony Stokes at the SFAI Kennedy Cup at the University of Limerick a few seasons back.
You can see the winners at the starting block can’t you, and it was obvious to anyone who knew anything about football that Stokes was a kid going places. Passing, control, positional awareness. You name it, he had it.
He’d also scored in almost every game at the blue riband tournament of Irish schoolboy soccer as the Dublin District Schoolboy League won it out, again.
The SFAI Kennedy Cup is unique in Europe as it has all the best teams in the country under one roof for five days at the University of Limerick. The tournament is contested on a World Cup format, with the group winners going through to the knockout stages.
The second, third and fourth placed teams advance to the lesser Kennedy Shield, Trophy and Bowl knockout phases. Everyone gets a few games and at times the football, in contrast to the cynicism of the professional game, is a joy to behold, despite the nonsense imposed on the kids from some coaches with their clipboards and FIFA coaching manuals bollocks.
Because the tournament showcases the cream of the next generation of Irish footballers it attracts most of the top scouts from the top clubs in England and Scotland. There was even a Rangers scout out there one year, ahem.
“Your’re a fine young footballer son, but what’s your take on the Blessed Virgin?”
So what are the scouts looking for in a 13-year-old?
According to a Wolves scout, they’re looking for players with passing, shooting and ball control ability and positional sense. They must also be willing to play for the team. Individuals tend to make managers nervous.
God only knows what they’d make of a young Best or Messi. “Son, unless you stop passing out all the players on the field and keeper and scoring hat-tricks you’ll have no future in the game.”
Meantime, Stokes was the name on all the scouts lips’ that particular year. United, though, were certain they had him in the bag. It’s not hard to see the attraction is it. Approach a teenager and tell him that United are interested and his parents will have him outside Alex Ferguson’s office before the scout arrives back in Manchester from Limerick.
However, Stokes opted to sign for Arsenal and that’s where the rot, as such, began.
Irish boss Michael Corleone aka Giovanni Trapattoni, diplomatically, blew a fuse this week when Stokes, who has since signed for Celtic, announced that he was “too tired” to play for his country in the Nations Cup clash meeting with Northern Ireland tonight.
There’s also a game coming up against Scotland ahead of the European Championships qualifier with Macedonia next month.
Midfielder James McCarthy, meanwhile, has endeared himself to Trapattoni and Irish fans by not even responding to any message left on his phone since he was named in the squad.
Other than that he can’t wait to line out for Ireland.
Reacting to the Stokes and McCarthy situation, Trappatoni confirmed that if a player was recently deceased that would be a cast iron alibi for not showing up for an international match.
“If they’re asked by the national team they must go. If they are in hospital or they are dead, that is okay.
“When I worked with Italian players I asked them what their fathers did, what time they got up in the morning. ‘We are lucky’, I told them. ‘We get up at 10 o’clock because we are sports people’. We are lucky, but we must enjoy playing football. Football is beautiful; it always gives another chance to win.”
But then the Irish manager went and spoiled it all by adding that he won’t be closing the door on anyone.
“No, no, we don’t forget anyone,” he said. “I don’t forget Carsley, we don’t forget Steven Reid. We look for new options, but we don’t forget anyone.”
Sorry Trap, we don’t go along with this anymore. This rot began with that self centered bastard Stephen Ireland a few years back when he refused to play for his country and is now downloading through the entire system.
Instead of closing the door on Ireland’s international career and telling him to fuck off Trappatoni and the FAI indulged him and demeaned the Irish shirt by pleading with him to come back despite the fact that he couldn’t be “arsed.”
The FAI and Trappatoni have to start restoring pride in the Irish jersey. If a player doesn’t want to play for his country then tell them their international careers are over. Make an example of them and close the door on any return. It’s as simple as that really.
Meanwhile, what happened to the young Anthony Stokes who celebrated proudly when the Dublin District League won the Kennedy cup at the University of Limerick?
What happened is that he signed a contract worth 20 or 30 grand, or more, sterling a week. Hand some young men that kind of money and it’s welcome to the parallel universe, a universe where playing for your country is an inconvenience.
That’s the way the game has gone. And as the money continues to pour into rugby that’s the way the oval ball game will go in the future.
Lining out for Ireland. They just couldn’t be arsed.