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No 'international decisions yet' for promising West Ham forward - Kenny

Mipo Odubeko was born in Dublin and qualifies for Nigeria and England.

FOR ALL THE hope that things can be different and more sustainable with the Republic of Ireland under Stephen Kenny, he still has to firefight some of the same issues as his predecessors.

intersport-elverys-summer-soccer-schools-stephen-kenny-visit Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

Losing out on promising dual nationality internationals who previously represented the country is one rearing its ugly head yet again.

Ireland fans were given a stark reminder of what might have been when both Declan Rice and Jack Grealish featured for England on their path to a final defeat against Italy at Euro 2020 earlier in the summer.

In the case of the latter, it was Martin O’Neill at the helm for the FAI when the Birmingham native switched allegiances to the country of his birth.

O’Neill was still in charge when he handed Rice his senior debut away to Turkey in 2018, although by the time the West Ham United midfielder decided on his future Mick McCarthy had become senior boss.

Attempts by McCarthy and Robbie Keane to keep the Londoner in the fold proved fruitless as Rice followed Grealish’s lead.

The latest scenario involving another West Ham player is different for varying reasons.

Mipo Odubeko was born in Dublin and played with St Joseph’s Boys, with his links to current Ireland U21 manager Jim Crawford going back to those schoolboy days when Crawford used to give the youngster lifts to training along with his own son and Odubeko’s older brother.

A move to Manchester United followed for the young forward, who qualifies for Nigeria and England, but he rejected an extended contract at Old Trafford a couple of years ago and decided to join West Ham.

And he has recently thrown his international future into doubt having represented Ireland since U16 level.

In May, Odubeko turned down a call-up to Crawford’s U21 squad for a training camp and series of friendlies in Spain.

The gifted 18-year-old had already withdrawn from a get together the previous month and the suggestions from those close to him were that he was focusing on establishing himself in David Moyes’ first-team squad after earning two first-team appearances last season.

It also emerged that his disappointment, and subsequent ill-feeling at not being included in the Ireland squad for the U17 European Championships has played a part in his willingness to weigh up his options, with Nigerian officials keen to bring him into their fold.

“There’s not really any further detail on it, he’s a very good player in terms of a prospect,” Kenny explained, insisting a senior call-up was not used as a carrot when he held discussions with Odubeko’s agent.

“He’s scored some goals for West Ham U23s. Jim wanted to call him up and he seemed happy to come up but there was a change of plan.

“I spoke to his agent who seems quite influential in the proceedings and they said they were going to take some time to find out, and just concentrate on the club career and not make any international decisions yet. That’s the way the agent was thinking.

“I don’t think that [requesting a senior call-up] is it. It wasn’t, ‘We’ll do this if you move him to the seniors’. It wasn’t that discussion at all. It’s just that international football wasn’t something they wanted to commit to at the moment. That was the agent. Down the line they’d consider it. We’ll have to just wait and see how it goes.

“He would have gotten into Jim’s squad at the moment at U21 level and taken it from there. He’s a player that has scored a few goals, but obviously he still has a lot to do. He is only young, his career is ahead of him, he went to England quite young.

“I know there was speculation that he was disappointed not to be included in Colin [O’Brien]’s squad at U17s in Tallaght, but he actually subsequently joined up with Andy Reid with the U18s after that. So he has been in an Irish squad after that, with the U18s.

“I think their matches ended up being cancelled with all that went on. So he did link up with Andy Reid. Andy had him in a camp for the U18s. So, we’ll see.”

One area Kenny has a different kind of fight on his hands is with the goalkeepers. Manchester City’s Gavin Bazunu has been in possession of the No.1 jersey since making his debut against Luxembourg and has ensured regular first team football for the campaign ahead with a loan move to Portsmouth in League One.

gavin-bazunu Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. Source: Sergio Ruiz/INPHO

Caoimhin Kelleher impressed on his debut in the second half of the friendly away to Hungary before they headed off to Euro 2020 and starts this season with a new long-term contract at Liverpool, where he has been promoted to No.2 under Alisson
Throw Bournemouth’s Mark Travers – who started against Serbia – into the mix, along with established first choice Darren Randolph and Kenny has an abundance of options, so much so Bazunu is not the guaranteed No.1 for the World Cup triple header in September.

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“You know, I couldn’t say that definitely at this stage. Gavin has done really, really well, he’s really stepped up, done exceptionally well, better than we could have hoped for,” Kenny said.

“Don’t forget, when he played his first game against Luxembourg and played in Qatar, he’d never previously been in the squad. There was some sort of saying, could he not have played against Serbia for example? But he’d never met the lads before and we were in and the match was the next day and Mark had been in the squad for two years and had two full internationals under his belt.

“Mark might nail down a place at Bournemouth, we’ll see how it goes, that would be great, and we’ll see how Gavin does as Portsmouth too, and Caoimhin at Liverpool, we’ll wait and see how that goes for him and where he’s going to be and see what the situation is.

“It’s a competitive area but it’s a good area because we have these really talented…we’ve not got real young high quality wingers bursting through for example but we’ve got terrific goalkeepers coming through at the moment and that’s something we’re delighted to have.”

While Bazunu (19), Kelleher and Travers (both 22) are still forging their careers, 34-year-old Randolph has endured problems with his body over the last couple of years, although his performance levels for Ireland have consistently been excellent despite being a deputy for Lukasz Fabianski at West Ham.

“His thigh injury and hip injury. We’ll have to see how Darren is. I’d say in the off season he managed to get a good rest and rehab and recuperation, so we’ll have to assess all of that but obviously the other goalkeepers have done well as well,” Kenny continued.

“We have to assess all of that and wait and see and see if Darren can nail down a place at West Ham as well which would be great. We’ll have to assess that.”

Stephen Kenny was speaking during a visit to the Intersport Elverys Summer Soccer Schools at Templeogue United FC in Dublin

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