The future of Irish soccer is in diversity
2018-10-01 12:38:55 -


By Ken McCue


Soccer People here were shocked by result of the recent Uefa Under-21 qualifier when Germany scored a 6-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland.

A post-mortem of the game reveals a number of startling facts. Examination of the team sheets shows that most of the German players play at the top levels in the Bundesliga, while the majority of the Irish squad are drawn from clubs in the League of Ireland and lower divisions in England.

The German players have been nurtured through their soccer academies to the senior teams of their clubs while the Irish lads, in the main, thread through their club structures and are dispatched ‘on loan’ to sides in lower divisions.

There is, however, one contrasting difference between the two set-ups. While the Irish one employs a combination of ‘homegrown’ players up to 16 years (the legal age to transfer abroad) and players born abroad who qualify under the parentage or ‘granny’ rule, the Germans draw extensively from the diverse ethnic sections of their communities.

The German squad that played in Tallaght Stadium that evening in September had six players selected from their ethnic cohort that comprises up 20 per cent of their population.

Now that the population of the Irish Republic is not far off that figure, surely it’s time that our soccer authorities start to explore ways to nurture male and female players from our diverse communities and draft them into the representative teams.

It is over 10 years since Chukuemeka Onwubiko broke the mould as the first player from the African continent (minus an Irish granny) to make his debut for the Republic of Ireland, and since then there has been a mere trickle of players from the ‘new Irish’ selected for international duty.

Players that have come into the frame recently include Bohemians; Peter Adigun, of Ivorian and Nigerian heritage, and Dundalk’s Lido Lotefa from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently both of them were selected to play with the Irish schools international team but, due to their status, they were restricted to playing within the territory of the Republic.

Ironically, young Onwubiko could only wear the green shirt for home games until his passport was granted, which also left it too late for him to transfer to the Manchester City academy.

Both Adigun and Lotefa will be joining another Bohs player, Ali Regbka (of Algerian parentage) on the Cabra campus of the joint Education and Training Board-FAI Player Development Programme.

Regbka, who played on the same Irish schools team as Adigun and Lotefa, made his debut recently for the Under-19 squad and will join them on the course.

This blended learning programme, combining full-time skills development and technical study, is the nearest we have to a soccer academy, and has produced a number of players who have gained caps up to senior level, along with players from different ethnic backgrounds such as former graduate Emeka Onwubiko.

The 2018-19 course also includes former Georgian youth international Nika Kalandarishvili of Athlone Town FC and a number of Irish players who have returned from British academies.

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