THEY LAUGHED AT ME AT THE TIME BUT I THINK I HAVE HAD THE LAST LAUGH
By Vincent Butler
Back in March 2003, eleven years ago, I got a phone call from Gerry McDermott, a Sports journalist with the Irish Independent who asked me would I do a Question & Answer series he was conducting every Saturday in the Independent involving minor soccer personalities, like myself. I was the Ireland International U15 and U16 Manager at the time.
It was a last minute job as Gerry Smith, the Junior International Team Manager who was to do it was not contactable. I readily agreed. Below is a copy of the article. If you look at the headline ‘Question Most Asked and the Answer’ you will see that I selected a then 20 year old player called Wesley Hoolahan as the best player I had ever seen, for the reasons stated in that paragraph.
Wesley had played for Belvedere from about five years of age, before joining Shelbourne at nineteen, and had always enthralled those watching him with his super skills and magnificent football brain. However when Weso was playing under fourteen he was like a ten year old in physique and obviously suffered as he had less strength and less pace than those with stronger builds and longer legs. However he kept going, never daunted by doubters.
When he was about fifteen the Club got him a few trials in England, two I remember were with Sunderland and Millwall, with whom we had contacts. The report that came back from each club was the same. He has fantastic skills but he is too small for our club to sign him.
The Head of Youth recruitment at that time in Sunderland was ‘Pop’ Robson, a highly respected former player with Newcastle and West Ham. He is a good friend of mine and I had a meal with him in an Italian restaurant in Clontarf, a few years ago, when he was over for an International Club Tournament in the Aviva when he was signing James McClean from Derry City. Near the end of the meal he said to me ‘you know you were dead right about Wesley Hoolahan, we should have signed him when we had the chance.’ His words were based on Wesley’s achievement while in loan at Blackpool, helping them to get from the Championship to the Premier League. He was then signed by Norwich in being a major factor in their progression from the First Division up to the Premier league in two seasons.
When he was given the opportunity by Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane with the Senior International team in recent months he has achieved a situation where John Giles, as a soccer pundit, has stated in his newspaper column that Wesley Hoolahan must start every game for the Republic, as he is their key player. He will be 32 shortly, through the mediocrity of so many so called experts in football he has been neglected for so many years and Ireland has missed his football intelligence at times when he would have stood out on the world stage. Hopefully he has five or six good years left in him to show all of us what we and Ireland have missed.
(See below for the article that appeared in the Sunday Independent)