There was an interesting development at Wednesday’s press conference at FAI HQ, as Martin O’Neill discussed the Michael Obafemi will-he-won’t-he allegiance issue.
At first, the Republic of Ireland manager was insistent that, having spoken with Michael Obafemi, the teenager had yet to make a decision on his international future, and that an appearance in the competitive fixture against Denmark on Monday was highly unlikely.
“I haven’t spoken to Michael (Obafemi’s) parents but I’ve spoken to him. I think he’s enjoyed the training, he’s been really good and I think he’s done really well in training, settled in nicely.
“But I think in terms of decisions for tying him down, I think that’s a bit of a distance off. I think he has things to think about like anything else and I certainly will not be rushing him.”
According to O’Neill, Obafemi was still on the international fence and would take time to make his decision.
“That was my point to him,” continued O’Neill. “So and, as I said a couple of days ago if he rushed in and said ‘this is exactly what I want to do’ I’d be fine with it but that’s a different issue.
“I want players to want to play for us and I want them to be right for the rest of their time. At this minute unless we’ve heard anything to the contrary, no, (Michael will not be going to Denmark).”
Michael Obafemi would not be playing against Denmark, and thus the media circus surrounding the promising youngster’s international future would expectedly continue to swell.
However, when pressed by this journalist, the mystery surrounding the O’Neill-Obafemi communication deepened.
Earlier this week, a source close to the aforementioned Southampton youngster confirmed to me that Obafemi’s intentions were clear; he wants to play for Ireland. I have been privy to text messages confirming so and there is no indication that Obafemi wants to line out for any other country.
And for those wondering, given the emoji-riddled world we now live in, Obafemi used green shamrocks, not a red rose, nor a flying eagle for that matter.
I pressed the Ireland manager on the issue at Wednesday’s press conference, where O’Neill appeared surprised by the recent development. Here is the transcript from my conversation with the Republic of Ireland manager at Wednesday’s press conference.
Transcript from FAI press conference, 14/11/2018, FAI HQ
Richard Barrett: Having spoken to a source close to Michael Obafemi directly his intentions were clear that he wants to commit to Ireland. Has anything changed over the last number of days?
Martin O’ Neill: Sorry who have you spoken to?
RB: Someone very close to him.
MON: Is that right? You’re further on than me.
RB: Has anything changed?
MON: Who did you speak to?
RB: I can’t reveal that, but they said his intentions are very clear that he wants to play with Ireland.
MON: You can’t come in here and be half honest.
RB: Would it be a surprise to see him line out on Thursday?
MON: Thursday is alright, Thursday is okay and I’m hoping that he can be in and we can use six subs in a friendly game so hopefully he’d be in the squad anyway for that game so no that wouldn’t be a surprise, the next game is the one.
If he has total commitment he didn’t say that to me nor to be fair to me I didn’t press him on it because I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to his family but n0, you’re ahead of the game you tell me.
RB: Are you confident?
MON: Confident on what?
RB: Confident that he will declare for Ireland?
MON: Am I confident? I’m always hopeful and I’ve always said that. I’m hopeful about Declan Rice too, hopeful you know? I can only be confident of something that I know I’m in control of or if that’s the case at least I know. I’m not in control of other people’s decisions, particularly issues like this which are very very important. I agree with you he has really enjoyed the training, he has enjoyed being brought in it seems.
As Glenn (Whelan) has mentioned he did very very well and has got a lot of encouragement, a lot of encouragement from the backroom staff but also importantly he’s got a lot of encouragement from senior players like Glenn and Seamus Coleman so that sort of feeling has got to be good and if that’s the case fine.
He might well have made his mind up even before coming over here, I’m curious as I said to you, you’re closer to him, I should bring you into the team.
On a serious note though, in regards the game on Monday, if he does declare do I go and do that then and if he suddenly goes and changes his mind then? I’m not sure on that but overall yes I’m hopeful, and I think you’re confident.
RB: Very confident
MON: Are you?
RB: Yes, I am.
MON: You should come and see me afterwards, join us for lunch.
While the offer of lunch was appealing, one particular piece of the exchange was particularly interesting. Earlier in the press conference, O’Neill contended that Obafemi had yet to make a decision on his international future.
“I’ve spoke (sic) to (Michael)…but I think in terms of decisions for tying him down, I think that’s a bit of a distance off.”
However, one can infer from the following statement that perhaps O’Neill has not even asked Obafemi what his intentions are.
“If he has total commitment he didn’t say that to me nor to be fair to me I didn’t press him on it…”
This is quite simply, bizarre. It is hard to believe that any other international manager would allow a player to turn up for training, wear the country’s crest with pride, and not even dare to ask whether he is committed to the cause.
Declan Rice badge-kissing infused experiences aside, all we know regarding Michael Obafemi is that he is a promising young talent that has turned up for Ireland training, given his all in the sessions, and hopes to make his Republic of Ireland senior debut on Thursday. Never once has he done anything that would suggest the contrary.
If it transpires that Martin O’Neill has not even asked the 18-year-old himself to declare for Ireland, then Obafemi’s international bow could unnecessarily be soured by the false uncertainty surrounding his commitment to the Boys In Green, and for that, the Republic of Ireland manager must be held accountable.
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As I write this, the usual vitriol and nonsensical online abuse has begun to navigate its idiotic way to the Twitter account of the young footballer who has done nothing wrong, only try his best to make his international debut.
We understand that you may not want to pressure Michael Obafemi into a decision, but your failure to do so has allowed this fester into a major issue that Ireland, and Michael himself, certainly do not need.