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'We're not even thinking about that' - Bazunu not bothered by speculation around Kenny's future

Ireland’s teenage goalkeeper says all focus is on Saturday’s qualifier with Azerbaijan.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

GAVIN BAZUNU INSISTS the Irish squad are indifferent to the debate surrounding Stephen Kenny’s future, as the manager aims to use the closing games of a lame-duck qualification campaign as proof he deserves a contract extension. 

The Ireland squad have gathered in Dublin ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan, which is an effective dead-rubber given both sides have yet to win any of their five games to date. Kenny’s contract expires next July, and thus he will need an extension to carry Ireland through to the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. 

The FAI will make their decision on an extension when the World Cup group ends in November. 

“From the players’ point of view we’re not even thinking about that”, Bazunu told media today at Abbottstown. “We’re just thinking about the next game. We’re taking all the information we’re getting from the manager, Keith [Andrews] and Anthony [Barry] and it’s really been brilliant.

“We’ve seen the progress we’re making and we’re just looking to build on that and take it game by game. The most important thing for us is the game on Saturday and we’re not thinking ahead of that.” 

The game in Baku offers Kenny his latest shot at a first competitive win as senior manager at the thirteenth attempt, but his teenage goalkeeper is unworried by the winless run. 

“Not at all, because I see massive progress over the last few games and I see where we’re going as a group and I feel that’s what a lot of the other players think. They can see the progress we’re making with a lot of the young lads that coming through and how brave we are in terms of playing and we’ve just not got rewarded for that.

“But I’m sure if we continue to play how we have played and if we continue to build on what we’ve done, the results will come.” 

Ireland’s campaign to date has been mildly confounding, in that arguably their two best performances have come in defeat and away to the two best teams in the group, Portugal and Serbia, while their two worst outings have been at home to the sides ranked lower than them, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. 

“We’ve noticed when we have a lot more of the ball, we have struggled with that”, admitted Bazunu. 

How to fix it? 

“Some tactical stuff, but also just bringing that intensity.

“Like when you have a lot of the ball and teams are putting eleven men behind the ball, sometimes it can get start to get a bit slow and laboured. And just increasing the intensity and tempo – I think that is one of the most important things when you have a team that is just looking to sit back and break.

“I think if we perform anywhere near the levels we played against Portugal and Serbia, the result should go our way.”

He’s only 19, but Bazunu sees this as his responsibility. 

“One of my roles is to set the tempo and the intensity, not only with what I’m doing on the ball, but also with my voice.” 

Bazunu’s assurance, given his age, is remarkable, and he has hardly paused for thought at the fact he’s Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper at the age of 19. 

“It was always a hope and and aspiration and now that it’s happening, I don’t even think about it like that, I think about what’s the next goal, what’s the next level I can get to. I just continue to take things day by day, training session by training session, match by match and try to improve every day really.” 

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gavin-bazunu-saves-a-penalty-from-cristiano-ronaldo Bazunu saves Ronaldo's penalty in Faro. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

That said, he refuses to accept he actually is Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper. “Every time I come in, I just focus on trying to be the best in training, and improve myself in every way. And whenever I get the chance on the pitch to prove that I’m the right decision to be playing. And that’s all I can do.” 

He is undoubtedly Portsmouth’s first-choice, where he is spending the season on loan from Manchester City. Pompey are 11th in League One and are certainly keeping Bazunu busy: only three goalkeepers in the division have made more saves than he has thus far. 

While acknowledging the chasm between England’s third tier and international football, Bazunu says there are some common experiences. 

“There is a huge difference, but I think if you approach all of the games in the same way, it doesn’t make a massive difference. I approach every league game with the same intensity and the same mindset that I’ve approached every international game. That’s just the mentality of wanting to win, to be the best on the pitch, to play with intensity and a great temperament.” 

One thing is for sure, though: in League One he won’t be thrust toward the blinding limelight into which he stepped in Faro last month, as he saved Cristiano Ronaldo’s early penalty. 

You won’t be surprised to hear Bazunu hasn’t spent too long reflecting on it. 

“I don’t think about it too much, but there are a lot of people who bring it up every now and again and it’s a nice thing to be able to go back to. But I just want to kick on and I want to have another moment like that.”

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from FAI HQ, Abbottstown

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