Time for Giovanni Trapattoni to set Wes Hoolahan free

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Wes Hoolahan action Ireland v GeorgiaGettyImagesWes Hoolahan finally received the start Ireland fans have been calling for, but not in his best position

Giovanni Trapattoni should be lauded for his belated conversion to Wes Hoolahan's cause. But the Republic of Ireland boss now needs to set the Norwich City midfielder free.

The Italian's admission he had been slow to appreciate the Dubliner's unique brand of magic was a positive concession in the build up to Friday's crucial World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands. Hoolahan appears to have done enough to feature, in the absence of the suspended James McCarthy, alongside Glenn Whelan on the evidence of his 75-minute outing to help sink the Georgians last weekend, in what was his first senior international start at the age of 31. But there was still an undercurrent of frustration that Hoolahan's shift in a deep-lying central midfield role bordered on a restriction of trade; a neutering of his talents.

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The post-match verdict of the Republic's record-equalling appearance holder Robbie Keane regarding Hoolahan was revealing. The Irish captain has played for huge clubs in a long career now winding to a more sedate conclusion in Major League Soccer. Keane knows a player in his midst after operating at Inter Milan, albeit briefly, Liverpool, marginally less briefly, and Tottenham. Keane was practically eulogising about Hoolahan's ability to spot a pass and fulfil that key international criteria of being able to link back to front in short, sharp propitious passing motions. Keane would love to dine on the service Hoolahan is capable of providing against limited opposition.

The Faroes will come with a game plan to frustrate, to get men behind the ball and erect barriers that challenge the hosts to probe for signs of weakness. Trapattoni and the rest of the Irish camp know the defining tests on the road to Brazil are over the horizon against the likes of Austria and Sweden later this year. But the Faroes must be navigated with the minimum of stress.

Should the Italian opt to harness Hoolahan in the same way he deployed the Norwich man from the start against Georgia and burden him with defensive responsibilities, such a posting can only restrict the Norwich man's attacking output. Ireland's second goal last weekend owed much to the creative urgings the Norwich fans have routinely revelled in. Shane Long spurned another later cushioned roll that bisected the retreating Georgian backline. Both slivers of action at the Aviva served to underline Hoolahan is at his most potent probing for porous breaches in and around opposition penalty areas - not 50 yards from goal facing his own keeper, as he found himself for much of the opening period.

Long's suspension removes another potential obstacle to pairing Keane and Hoolahan in tandem against the Faroes. Trapattoni has others far better suited to screening and protection. If the simple criteria on Friday is securing safe passage before the World Cup odyssey resumes next season, then Hoolahan must be afforded his freedom of expression.

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