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'The best players in the world get criticised, and if you took it to heart you wouldn’t be in this game'

Former Irish international Paul Green speaks to The42 about dealing with criticism, Euro 2012 and his ongoing club career.

Paul Green.
Paul Green.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

FOOTBALL, FOR ALL its cruelty and cynicism, remains a game of a thousand hidden dignities. 

This reality leads from the game’s sheer number of players and strata, and it means that a nation’s collective horror can be among one man’s career highlights. 

“To get some minutes against Spain at the Euros was a massive plus for me”, Paul Green tells The42. “I never, ever thought I would play in a big tournament like that.

“Growing up and playing with Doncaster in the Conference, it’s something that just wasn’t thought of.” 

Having not been in the original squad for Euro 2012, Green was belatedly called up when Keith Fahey was ruled out through injury. He got the call surrounded by his family at a barbeque, and he went to pack while those around him got on with the business of celebrating.

“Getting that call to say I was being called up…I couldn’t stop smiling. I think my family had too many scoops that night celebrating, while I was packing my bags.”

Green didn’t even have a club when he replaced Glenn Whelan for the final 10 minutes of Ireland’s defeat to Spain, having left Derby and was yet to sign a contract with Leeds.

Ireland trailed 3-0 when Green made his appearance, and within three minutes Cesc Fabregas had made it 4-0 to confirm a wretched exit with a game to spare. 

Cesc Fabregas celebrates scoring his sides final goal Fabregas celebrates his goal against Ireland. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

When Fabregas was 16, he left a Barcelona academy group featuring Leo Messi and Gerard Pique to sign for Arsenal. At the same age, Green was released by Sheffield Wednesday and told he was too small. 

Fabregas would become Arsenal’s youngest first-team player within months; Green got cut from trials with local sides before finally earning a youth contract with non-league Doncaster.

After meeting at Euro 2012, their paths bent away from each other once again. Both, however, are still playing: Fabregas with Monaco at the age of 32; Green with League Two’s Crewe Alexandra, aged 36. 

Yesterday, he started and played 67 minutes of Crewe’s opening game of the season against Plymouth.  

“I’m still fit and strong, and still enjoying football”, says Green. “It’s a great club, Crewe, we play some good football so it suits me down to the ground.

“I just love playing football. It’s what I always wanted to do and I still have the desire and the will to win. I don’t think I’ll ever lose that. I feel as fit as ever, I’m probably one of the fittest players in the Crewe team so I’m happy to keep going.” 

As his senior club career enters its 19th season, Green’s international career looks like it will finish with his most recent cap against Costa Rica, a friendly played in the Unites States ahead of the 2014 World Cup. 

“To be honest it was a massive achievement by myself to play for my country, qualify for a major tournament and play some minutes. It is something that will always be with me, and I’ll always be proud of.” 

Green was born in Wales but qualified for Ireland through his grandfather, who encouraged Green to tell the FAI of his availability when he moved up to the Championship in 2008. 

“I moved to Derby at the time and my Grandad, who is Irish, said to put my name forward. When I was in League One I didn’t really bother, because I didn’t think they would look at players in that league. But at Derby, I told the FAI that I was eligible to play and it all stemmed from there.”

It was 2010 by the time Green got the call-up from Giovanni Trapattoni, but there was one further complication. As he was preparing to fly to Dublin for a training camp, the airborne ash from the eruption of an Icelandic volcano grounded all flights. 

“Oh my God. I was supposed to fly out to Dublin and meet up [with the squad] at Portmarnock, but all the flights were cancelled. That was a nightmare. 

“I had to get a taxi to Dover, and then get the ferry over to Dublin. I’d have tried to swim across if I had to. It was major for me to be called up.” 

He scored his only international goal in his first full game – against Algeria – and ahead of a creditable 0-0 draw with Sweden in 2013, his dogged qualities and positional play drew him into Trappatoni’s breath alongside Genarro Gattuso. 

“It’s crazy to think he could say that, to be honest. I’ll never play at that level”, says Green today. 

Nonetheless, Trapattoni valued Green. 

“I think it’s because I did the horrible things well. Breaking things up and starting things off.

“A lot of people will see the flair players and focus on them, but you still need a grafter in there who will work hard to break things up so people can be given the licence to go forward.”

Green’s on-field tasks and style drew heavy criticism from the usual quarters, particularly after Ireland blew a lead to draw 2-2 at home to Austria days after the Sweden game. Green played the final seven minutes on the right of midfield with Ireland leading 2-1, but a late David Alaba goal went a long way to puncturing Ireland’s campaign. 

Giovanni Trapattoni and Paul Green Green with Trapattoni. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Green bore the brunt of the fallout, days after Bill O’Herlihy revealed that Eamon Dunphy had called him a “joke” off-air in RTÉ studios. 

“Sometimes it is tough to take”, Green says of the criticism.

“I remember Robbie Keane taking me to the side to say, ‘Just forget about them, you are here for a reason.’

“I was the same. ‘You know what, I’ll do my own thing here and if they don’t like it, they don’t like it. I’m here for a reason.’ The manager liked me, and that was how it was.

“The manager wasn’t chucking me in for the sake of chucking me in, he put me in as he saw what I could bring the team.

“The manager put me in to do a job, and I always said that I’d do my best for my country, and that’s what I always did.

“Even the best players in the world get criticised, nobody is perfect, and if you took it to heart you wouldn’t be in this game. You have to let it go, and I always thought when I got criticised that the best players in the world get it, and they get over it.

“I’m a strong-minded person, and that’s how I’ve come across all my life.” 

Green’s international career faded away; he was included in a few of Martin O’Neill’s famously large provisional squads without making the cut, and then his name stopped being printed at all. 

Paul Green with Lionel Messi Paul Green with Lionel Messi. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Not that he betrays bitterness or regret. 

“That was it really, the phone stopped ringing. I was getting in provisional squads but not in the main squads, and younger players came in and they had different ideas. 

“I’m big enough and old enough to understand to understand that times change, that younger players were coming through.

“That’s what happens in football, younger players come through and you have to step aside.” 

That’s the game – it gives, but it must take back eventually.

Not that Paul Green is fully finished with it just yet. 

 

 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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