The Republic Of Ireland drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland in the Aviva Stadium last Thursday, on November 15th. It was a forgettable display by Martin O’Neill’s men and one they were fortunate to draw. Glenn Whelan, however, captained the side in what appears to be his final appearance for his country.
Glenn Whelan now has 85 caps for the Irish. The current Aston Villa midfielder stands as the 9th highest cap holder in the history of his nation. No other central midfielder has played as many times for the Emerald Isle. Legendary Irish midfielders such as Roy Keane, Liam Brady and Johnny Giles have 67, 72 and 59 respectively.
Glenn Whelan was handed his first international cap against Serbia in 2008 by manager Giovanni Trappatoni. Under the Italian, Whelan would find himself to be Mr Reliable in the eyes of the former Bayern boss. He would become a permanent fixture in a defensive Irish side.
Why so much criticism in an international career that has lasted 10 years? The Clondalkin man has played top-flight football for the best part of eight seasons. He was part of a successful Stoke side under Pulis and whenever Stoke tried to improve that area, Whelan constantly held off competition for a long time.
Often the scape-goat amongst fans and especially pundits. Pundits, in particular, were damning in their assessment of the Dubliner, to say the least. In 2013, for example, Eamon Dunphy wasn’t very complimentary of Whelan. Dunphy had this to say on RTE television.
“He’s a terrible player. He can’t run, he can’t pass, he can’t tackle, he doesn’t see anything. He drives two Ferraris, I think he is a very lucky lad to have 50 caps for Ireland.”
Pretty scathing stuff. Must pundits were not this harsh but Whelan was targeted.
For ten years Whelan has featured under two different managers. The legendary Italian coach Giovanni Trappatoni and Derry man Martin O’Neill. In both managers spells, it is fair to say that Ireland lack serious quality players in the middle of the park. Whelan was a favourite under both managers.
Both managers have played football in a similar style certainly whilst managing the Republic. Its premise is defensive. Allowing the opposition to have the ball and while in possession themselves the instruction is generally getting the ball long to the centre-forward or wingers. One of the criticisms levelled at Whelan was the question of him not demanding the ball and getting us moving through the middle. Curiously this was aimed at him more than any other midfielder. But surely this point was irrelevant? In general, the Dubliner isn’t the most creative of players, but if players are instructed to play long and direct, how can anyone have a go at the player for not getting on the ball?
Clearly, Glenn was highly respected and appreciated by both recent Ireland managers. This may well be the reason he gets the scape-goat treatment. He does exactly what a manager asks him to do. Jack Charlton dropped Liam Brady once because of a disagreement in approach to the game.
Legacy Of Whelan
Glenn Whelan will not go down in history and one of the greatest players to have worn the green shirt. But he certainly is not amongst the worst; no matter what people say, he leaves behind a great legacy. A legacy that sees him up there with the highest cap holders.
But for the man himself, he can look back on a career with great satisfaction. A player that always gave 100% for the cause. He wore that jersey with pride and honesty. A player who went about his business quietly on a football field with minimal fuss. And when all is said and done, he cannot be criticised for that.