Following Southampton’s impressive display against second placed Tottenham on Sunday, Ronald Koeman has described the current form of Shane Long as one of the main reasons behind his side’s current form which sees them in the running for European football next season.
Southampton are currently the favourites to reach next season’s Europa League ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool. The Saints’ impressive form has seen them beat Manchester City and Tottenham in recent weeks, with Long scoring his 100th career goal in English football against City.
Shane Long has never been prolific in terms of goal scoring but he has reached 10 league goals this season. This is a major plus for the Republic of Ireland and Martin O’Neill as the domestic season winds down with the European Championships only four weeks away.
Koeman has noticed the change in Long this season which has also seen Long go from a player Martin O’Neill saw as a squad player who he was unable to place his full trust in, to a player who since his goal against Germany last October has risen to the occasion.
Long is now a key member and starter of both the Republic of Ireland and Southampton.
“I remember when Shane came, I think in all aspects he has learnt a lot,” said Koeman.
“We did a lot with Shane in a lot of aspects of football and I think he is more complete as a player, as a striker.
“His pace, his timing, his movements are full of confidence. It is a big example that you can still learn when you are 26, 27, 28. You can learn every day.
“It is a big example of how you can develop with the help of coaches and that is nice to see.
“He is really complete as a striker, in the box he is clever, he has a really good header, he makes it so difficult for the defenders because he is always on the move.”
Quotes via The Irish Examiner.
This Summer will be a huge one for Shane Long as he steps out of the shadow of Robbie Keane and establishes himself as Martin O’Neill’s first choice striker.
Like Keane, Long has been a bit of a journey man since he made the move to Reading from Cork City in 2005. Since then he has represented Reading, West Brom, Hull City and current club Southampton.
His current form for Southampton has seen him linked with moves to both Tottenham and Liverpool. It is easy to see how his style would fit perfectly with the high paced tempo Jurgen Klopp is trying to establish at Liverpool.
However before thoughts turn to next season, Long will turn his attention to the Republic of Ireland as they prepare to right the wrongs of Euro 2012 when the Boys in Green failed to turn up in their three group games and were well below par, with the tournament a largely unforgettable experience for Long and his teammates.
This year however there is a much more positive vibe around camp as O’Neill decides who will and will not go as part of the 23 man squad with friendlies against the Netherlands and Belarus, the final chance to impress and claim a seat on that plane to France.
Shane Long however need not worry as he will be Ireland’s key man this summer. If he can continue his current club form this summer, then the Republic of Ireland will be a match for anyone.
The Republic will face Sweden (June 13th) Belgium (June 18th) and Italy (June 22nd) in this summer’s tournament.
They have already been boosted with the loss of key players with the Belgian and Italian squads with the news that Vincent Kompany and Marco Verratti will both miss this summer’s tournament.
Martin O’Neill will have one more weekend of competitive fixtures to watch anxiously as the Premier League season winds down, hoping that his key players will come through without incident.