In search of Our new Irish soccer heroes
2018-12-01 13:55:59 -


By Ken McCue


In his 1938 play Life of Galileo, German playwright Berthold Brecht has the great scientist saying: “Unhappy the land that is need of heroes.” When it comes to the Republic of Ireland soccer outfit, the search for a new hero has preoccupied the FAI, fans and media alike over the last year.

Now that the focus has shifted away from the London-born Declan Rice, who has 20 underage caps and a senior cap for Republic of Ireland, towards the 18-year-old, Dublin-born Michael Obafemi, with three U19 caps, a new mini-hero may be on the throwing wheel.

In one of the most boring games of the Uefa Nations League, between Denmark and Ireland last month, the appearance of the Southampton FC youngster with 10 minutes to go resulted in big sigh of relief from the entire Irish soccer family as the youngster turned his back on Nigeria and England and opted for the land of his birth. Finally this unhappy land may have found a gem in the form of Michael Oluwadurotimi Obafemi.

In his address at Sport Against Racism Ireland’s (Sari) Sporting Equals symposium in Croke Park in 2006, Sari director Brian Kerr forecast the emergence of soccer players from our growing diverse ethnic population, much like Obafemi. But he cautioned that unless there was a strategic recruitment plan put in place by the FAI where the players coming from migrant backgrounds can be facilitated to join the ranks of our international squads, we will lose them to other countries.

The former manager of Republic of Ireland teams at every level from U16 up to senior was speaking from many years’ experience of nurturing young talent coming from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Unfortunately, unlike other Uefa soccer associations in countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and England, the FAI has been slow to tap into the vast migrant talent bank on their doorstep, with just a trickle of players coming through the club system onto our international teams.

A number of factors inhibit the development of players of migrant backgrounds: the Emerging Talent system that had the potential to provide a talent track but which has been cut back; the failure to establish a national academy; the 2005 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulation; and economic restrictions on players in the asylum process joining clubs. All contribute to the dearth of talent from this section of our society.

The selection of an Irish-born ethnic minority player on the senior international team sheet who qualified by birthright and not under the ‘Granny Rule’ provides great encouragement to other youngsters of migrant background who have a desire to wear the green shirt.

But if we continue to take our eye off the ball, we will carry on to ignore talent like the Dublin-born Glasgow Celtic reserve team player Armstrong Okoflex, who has been overlooked for recent international callups along with former Bohemians FC player Ayman Ben Mohamed of new African Champions League winners Esperance Sportive de Tunis, who was never selected for a green international cap but now plays for Tunisia.

An immediate review of our recruitment policy that looks beyond the parentage rule and the scrapping of the restrictive Nationality and Citizenship Regulation are called for if we are serious about finding new soccer heroes and catching up with our European counterparts.

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