It's hard to believe that Stephen Kenny has yet to even meet his squad of players and he's already embroiled in a selection controversy. Southampton's Michael Obafemi wasn't selected in today's 23 man squad, Kenny's first as Ireland manager, for the upcoming Nations League ties with Bulgaria and Finland.
Obafemi tweeted the word "disgrace" before promptly deleting it, and replacing the tweet with a more placid, if still unhappy, response.
— MO (@michaelobafemi_) August 24, 2020
He also changed his profile picture from that of his celebrating his Ireland debut with his family.
There are eight forwards named for the games, (David McGoldrick will only join the squad for the second game against Finland) with five of them strikers. It means there is a lot of competition in the forward places for Ireland for the first time in a long time, with his Southampton teammate Shane Long preferred to him, as well as three of Stephen Kenny's former Under 21 stars, Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott and Adam Idah, who is receiving his first senior call up.
Obafemi played 25 times for Southampton in all competitions last season. He started 12 of those games, and scored three times, including a stunner against Chelsea and a last second equaliser against Manchester United.
In comparison, Adam Idah played 16 times for Norwich (five starts), and also scored three goals. Connolly played 27 times for Brighton (17 starts), and scored four times. Parrott, who has since gone on loan to Millwall, only appeared four times for Spurs and didn't score, while Shane Long played 31 times for Southampton and also scored three goals, and David McGoldrick played 32 times for Sheffield United, scoring four times.
Speaking to the media on the on the back of the squad announcement, Kenny explained why he hasn't included the 20-year-old.
Michael is a great lad. I think he’s been playing in a front two a lot, he’s still learning the position playing wider. That’s something he’s still coming to terms with. He’s in a much better physical condition at the moment, Michael has a very good future ahead of himself.
I hope he goes into the Under 21 squad and does well now at that level and hopefully gets into the Southampton team. The manager at Southampton, Ralph Hassenhutl, has been brilliant for him.
Michael didn’t make this squad, but squads are evolving and changing. We do play with one lone central striker and he’s not played that role that much because his team play with a two.
It is a different position. He has played wide with Southampton on occasion, he’s still learning that one. I see him as a striker and he’s someone who hopefully has a big future with Ireland.
Obafemi has only played once for Ireland at senior level, a 0-0 draw with Denmark in the Nations League in November 2018 under Martin O'Neill. Since then, injuries and a lack of form have pushed him down the pecking order, and he has made two appearances for the Under 21s, under Kenny. Now, Kenny suggests he goes back to that level and wait for his turn in the senior squad.
The new manager also confirmed he didn't contact Obafemi with the news that he wouldn't be picked as he only contacted those who has been in previous squads under Mick McCarthy.
“He hasn’t been in any of the previous squads in the last campaign. I spoke to all the players who were in the squad in the last campaign, even those who were omitted from the last few squads. But Michael wasn’t in any of them. Michael has to go into the U21s and do well at that level.”
In the press conference, Kenny also spoke about the returning James McCarthy, a man who hasn't played for Ireland since 2016, but who Kenny thinks has been played out of position for his country and who is yet to produce his best football.
He is someone who is extremely talented. He has an exceptional range of passing. I don’t think we have utilised him in his best position a lot. We haven’t utilised his talent overall and injuries have prevented him becoming sort of regarded as the best midfield player of the generation,which in my mind he is.
He’s only 29 now so even some of his best performances might be ahead of him if he can stay fit. If we can get him facing the goal and get the ball to him in midfield with the speed that we’ve got, attacking options and the speed, it could be a good combination.
In the last few years he hasn't been our most expressive passer, you know? Maybe because he has been the second midfielder he can’t go deep to get it.
There’s bodies in the area, it’s congested, he’s having to play it backward and go long so it has been hard for him. Injuries have obviously interrupted. It is just one of those unfortunate situations. There is more to come from James.