Chris Lakey: Wes Hoolahan might not have convinced Trapattoni, but he won the hearts of Republic of Ireland fans
PUBLISHED: 12:50 08 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:55 08 February 2018
PA Archive/PA Images
It took Giovanni Trapattoni a while, but even he had to admit he'd joined the list of managers who were sceptical of Wes Hoolahan's mercurial talents.
“When you asked me before, I said Hoolahan’s age is 30 years old and we are starting the new generation for the next season,” said Trapattoni. “I said also that maybe I ignored him a bit.”
The Italian was in charge of the Republic for five years, from 2008 to 2013, when Hoolahan should have been in his prime.
Instead, the little magician watched more games than the secretary of the country’s fan club.
Hoolahan, 35, has now announced his retirement from international football, having won 43 caps. It should have been double that.
But Trapattoni fell into the, er, trap that caught out a few other managers: how to fit Hoolahan into your team. That question shouldn’t be a good reason to leave him out: players like Wes Hoolahan become the fulcrum of a team, not side issues to be slotted into a spare hole.
It wasn’t until Martin O’Neill took over that Hoolahan finally began to get the international recognition he deserved.
But if he could find a role for him, why couldn’t Trap?
Glenn Roeder, Bryan Gunn, Paul Lambert, Alex Neil all struggled from time to time: Lambert was ready to let him leave Carrow Road but, to both men’s credit, it never happened.
Hoolahan proved his worth, Lambert accepted it, the great man stayed – and City fans have been celebrating ever since.
And when Ireland finally put centre stage, an amazing Green Army of Irish fans adored him. Anyone who criticised a performance felt their wrath. He had many admirers in the Irish media, who backed him to the hilt. Every Irish performance was followed by an analysis of Hoolahan’s input.
And who can blame them: remember that stunning Euro 2016 game against Italy when Hoolahan, having spurned a terrific opportunity to score, made amends immediately with a perfect cross for then City team-mate Robbie Brady to head home for a 1-0 victory. You could hear the ground shake from Dublin to Lille, via Norwich.
Now, it’s over... but what comes next?