Norwich City midfielder Hoolahan backed to earn international honours
Respected media pundit and former Republic of Ireland midfielder Ray Houghton insists Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan can gatecrash Giovanni Trapattoni's Euro2012 squad.
The 29-year-old Dubliner has so far been overlooked by Trapattoni after being handed his one and only senior cap by the Italian back in 2008. Houghton was consulted during the original selection process that appointed Trapattoni, who has now guided his adopted country to the brink of qualification following Friday's emphatic 4-0 first leg play-off win in Estonia.
Houghton was part of the Skysports commentary team in Tallinn and the former Republic legend is convinced Hoolahan can still make a late run for the finals ahead of tonight's second leg formality for the Irish back on home soil.
'I've watched his career with a lot of interest since he played for the U21s in Ireland and he has done well,' said Houghton, who played in Euro88 and the 1990 World Cup as part of Jack Charlton's squad. 'He has moved around in his career since but it's great that he is doing so well now. To get that promotion into the Premier League is good for Norwich and good for him. I think what happens is the manager has his own ideas and he has been building his squad for a period of time now - really since the previous qualifying campaign.
'If you look at the way he has moulded it he tends to bring one or two out to bring one or two in. They have been very loyal and maybe a little bit more reluctant to look at the older players, but I do think if he does continue to keep playing the way he is there is no doubt that once these (play-off) matches are over with, the manager will be looking for someone to break into the squad before the finals, if Ireland do make it there. Wes just has to keep his head down and keep playing well. If he does that then he will be in with a chance.'
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Houghton believes Hoolahan could bring an extra dimension to Trapattoni's squad which has been constructed on a defensive solidity that saw the Republic concede only seven goals in ten qualifiers before facing Estonia.
'The manager has come in for a bit of criticism for the style of play but if they get through then you can't really argue,' he said. 'He has a system he believes in and it's really whether Wes can fit into that. I have watched him for Norwich and he plays a bit higher up the pitch. Whether they might have to change the system to accommodate that, only time will tell. My advice would be just keep doing what you are doing. He is playing well and if continues to do that then he will get a chance. The thing then is he has to take it.'
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Hoolahan's form for the Canaries in the early months of the Premier League allied to his key role in City's second consecutive promotion from the Football League saw him shortlisted for the PFA of Ireland's overseas player-of-the-year. Aston Villa's Richard Dunne won the award, but Houghton feels Hoolahan's club displays will not have gone unnoticed.
'I was delighted for him. To be shortlisted for that award shows you he is getting the recognition,' he said. 'I've watched him this season and he definitely has something about him, Wes. He seems to have found a club that is good for him and he is good for them at the same time if you look at what Norwich have achieved in the past two seasons or so. They have played very good football and Wes is the type of player who will flourish in the Premier League. This is the best place and the best stage for him now to do his work. He had been wandering around a little bit in his early career in many respects but he has now found a home in Norwich and he needs to maintain that level of consistency game in, game out.'