Monday, September 23, 2013

Gibson and the Question of Patriotism

Last week, a week after Giovanni Trapattoni's departure from the Irish team, Darron Gibson spoke for the first time about his exile from international football. For those who don't know, Gibson refused to play for the national team after the European Championship last summer. He has been silent on this issue (for the most part) and the speculation about his absence has remained a bone of contention between Irish supporters for the past year.

Darron Gibson

It seems his dissatisfaction stems from not taking part in the tournament itself and his relationship with the manager:

"Obviously I didn’t get on and I just felt he had some sort of problem with me but I felt he had a problem with me before the Euros as well as I never played. Like I said, I didn’t want to make a big deal about not playing under him so I kept myself quiet but I am available to come back now".

A bad working relationship can be problematic but Gibson even admits himself that Trapattoni didn't have an argument with him. The closest thing to a fight is when Gibson asked why he wasn't being played and Trapattoni replied "You are young". Not exactly a big bust up. But Gibson went on:

"I was embarrassed and that angry that I didn’t get on the pitch for even a second at the Euros. I felt I couldn’t come back and play for him again. When he made the three subs against Spain I’m sitting on the bench and thinking “what’s going on? There’s obviously something wrong. (But even then) if I’d gone on against Italy, I would have carried on playing".

Now that the situation has been made clear, and Gibson makes himself available to play again, Irish supporters are still divided. It is true that there is no lack of ego in the above statements. Gibson felt he was too good to be ignored, no matter his age or experience. He felt he was also better than most of the players in the team, that also can't be denied. What is so shocking for a lot of fans is that he felt all this was enough to turn his back on his country, even if temporarily. But Gibson is not the first to do it and not even the most controversial either.

Stephen Ireland (yes, that's actually his name) in 2007 caused uproar within the country with what was dubiously titled Grannygate. After a rather disastrous European Qualifier game, which we won't go into for brevity, Stephen got a call from his girlfriend. To speak to him she told his colleague who answered the phone that Stephen's grandmother died. This, it turns out, wasn't true and the real reason she wanted to speak to him was that she had recently had a miscarriage. Unfortunately, when asking his manager for compassionate leave he continued the lie about his grandmother rather than admit the truth. When the manager was asked why Ireland wasn't available for the next game he told the press what he thought was the real reason and soon Stephen's grandmother read in the paper that she was dead.

Stephen Ireland

What would follow was a series of mishaps worthy of any farce. Daniel Taylor wrote about it at the time: "When journalists discovered earlier this week that Ireland's maternal grandmother, Patricia Tallon, was alive and well - and shocked to read about her death in the newspapers - Ireland changed his story to say his paternal grandmother, Brenda Kitchener, had died. She, in turn, read about her own death and at least one newspaper was reportedly threatened with legal action by relatives on Thursday. Ireland is then understood to have changed his story again, this time claiming that one of his grandfathers was divorced and that it was his elderly partner who had died. That was also exposed as a lie".

The stupid thing about the whole affair was that the real reason was more than enough to allow his time off but a mix of youth and panic caused a series of bad decisions. It turned what should have been a personal problem into a national embarrassment. Stephen Ireland withdrew from international football soon after and has never played for us since.

There have been a number of occasions where he has hinted at a return. Even this past week, possibly inspired by Gibson's revelations, he spoke about it again. "I think I would like to get together and have a chat and try to put everything on the table, put across ideas and just have a good general chat. If nothing comes out of it, nothing comes out of it, but I think it would be nice just to have a chat". Again, there is no shortage of ego in that statement. It has long been a point of anger with the public that he refuses to play. Speaking like a girl waiting to be asked to a prom won't help matters.

Last, but oh certainly not least, is what is known as The Saipan Incident. In 2002, under the management of ex-player Mick McCarthy, Ireland had qualified for the World Cup in Japan. It was our first tournament in 8 years and we were being led by captain Roy Keane, one of the greatest players to ever put on the green jersey. However, McCarthy and Keane didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of subjects, including the FAI's ability to arrange suitable facilities for the team.

Roy Keane
When the Irish team arrived at their training ground, which was considered to be less than sub-par by Keane, things started to kick off. He gave an interview with an Irish newspaper listing his grievances. McCarthy, after reading the article, questioned Keane during a team meeting. A huge argument ensued in front of the whole squad where Keane was quoted to have said "Mick, you're a liar … you're a fucking wanker. I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager, and I don't rate you as a person. You're a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country! You can stick it up your bollocks."

Keane left just before the tournament started and provoked national outrage to the point where the Taoiseach (Irish Prime-Minister) Bertie Ahern offered to mediate and the FAI formally commissioned a report into the incident before the FAI General Secretary resigned. Keane refused to play for Ireland again as long as McCarthy was the manager and stayed true to his word. Ireland went on to the Quarter Finals of the tournament before being beaten by Spain in a penalty shoot-out.

Over ten years later and there is still a little bad blood between Keane and many Irish supporters due to the incident. Despite his name being touted as a possible successor to Trapattoni as manager, there would be considerable work to be done on the PR side of the game to smooth his transition back in to the Irish set-up.

Indeed, it appears that while the public may consider wearing your country's colours the highest honour, it seems a lot of footballers prioritize their own personal feelings first. With three similar incidents in 10 years it's a worrying sign for the future.