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"You'd Notice Him If He Wasn't There" - Explaining Why Managers Love Glenn Whelan

"You'd Notice Him If He Wasn't There" - Explaining Why Managers Love Glenn Whelan
By Conor Neville Updated

With James McCarthy absent through injury, Glenn Whelan reprised his role as whipping boy in chief for the Irish fans on Monday night. He's a footballer whose appeal often seems lost on supporters and pundits alike.

Eamon Dunphy has continually poured scorn on Whelan during his eight years as an international regular, citing the two Ferrari's in Whelan's driveway as justification.

Last night on Off the Ball, Stuey Byrne implored the Irish setup to see what's on offer in the League of Ireland, and not dismiss it out of hand. Once more, he held Glenn Whelan aloft as the prime symbol of Ireland's inadequacy, the avatar of mediocrity. Stevie O'Donnell could surely do Whelan's job, Byrne said, and he could do more going forward as well.

And yet, through it all and in defiance of the clamour, Whelan maintains his place in the team. Martin O'Neill has shown much the same fidelity to selecting Whelan as Giovanni Trapattoni.

And it's not only Irish managers who are in love with picking Glenn Whelan. Even Premier League managers, with the transfer market at their disposal, find the lure of picking him irresistible.

Since their promotion to the top flight in 2008, a journey of which Whelan was part, Stoke have spent something in the region of £60 million on central midfielders.

But still, Whelan is there, anchoring their midfield.

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The likes of Steve Sidwell, Wilson Palacios, Steven N'Zonzi, Maurice Edu and Charlie Adam have all arrived in town, only to find the task of dislodging Glenn Whelan from his midfield birth a step too far for their supposedly subtler talents. They're all gone, while Whelan is still there, anchoring the midfield.

Rarely has the phrase 'ever present' been deployed more appropriately. Last season, he only missed one Premier League game, their 4-1 mauling at Liverpool. He had injured his back getting out of the car.

At the most recent Stoke fixture in Goodison Park, Whelan made his 25oth Premier League appearance.

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Pete Smith, football reporter for the Stoke Sentinel, spoke to us about Whelan's impact in Stoke and his value to the team in general.

The Everton game was his 250th Premier League appearance for Stoke. And I think only Ryan Shawcross has made more since they won promotion to the Premier League in 2008. The club have spent about £50-60 million trying to replace him and he's still there standing tall.

It does seem like every summer they go out and sign a new midfielder and then, within a month or two, it's Glenn Whelan again, in midfield.

Why are managers, at both club and international level, so in thrall to selecting Whelan? Smith has spoken to both Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes about Whelan's virtues.

They (Pulis and Hughes) sing from the same hymn sheet about him. An unsung hero. Doing the work that goes unnoticed. But you'd notice him if he wasn't there.

He's a great character in the changing room and on the pitch. He's the captain in all but armband. A real leader. Mark Hughes has wanted that as he's brought in flair players to have that heartbeat of the old Stoke. Ordering people around and telling people off if they're not defending or tracking back. And he's does that shielding job in front of the back four. And he does it quite well. Obviously, he's played 250 times in the Premier League so he must be pretty good at it.

His role evolved slightly under Mark Hughes. He is now allowed to progress beyond the half-line, for one thing. But there is still a graceful acceptance on everyone's part that he will offer little going forward. He's not there for that.

He has changed his game a little bit since Hughes took over from Pulis. When Pulis was in charge, they called it the cage in front of the back four and he wasn't allowed anywhere in front of the halfway line. But he actually dovetailed really well with Steven N'Zonzi when those two were playing in Hughes's first two seasons. And he broke forward a little bit.

But he knows his own strengths more than anybody. So, he won't try any meandering runs, he'll try and pass it short and give it to players who are better on the ball than he is.

Irish sport is rich in examples of players who are loved by the fans but provoke wariness in their managers. The Wes Hoolahan Hall of Fame, we could call it. Andy Reid and David O'Leary from the football team, Ian Madigan, Geordan Murphy and Tony Ward are all inductees from the rugby community.

Whelan represents the polar opposite of this tradition. He's the pantomime villain keeping the people's favourite out of the team.

The Stoke fans, however, place far more value on the job Whelan does than the Republic of Ireland fans.

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If you talk to supporters, pretty much everyone will say he's an unsung hero. He never gets any headlines, he never has a shot, never mind score.

We've run a couple of polls asking what should be Stoke's best team if everyone's fit and Whelan isn't it, by quite a considerable margin. But it would no surprise to anybody if he was in Mark Hughes's team. And no one really grumbles about that anymore. I think everyone appreciates the value that he brings to the team even if it isn't very glamorous. We've all had this dream of Shaqiri and Arnautovic lighting every game up.

That Sweden game (in the Euros) when Whelan marked Ibrahimovic and by about the 70th minute, he looked like he was breathing out of his arse. Stoke fans were really proud of Whelan. He's a real adopted Stokee. And to mark Zlatan, he played brilliantly well. There's a real feeling that he's one of us. Flying the flag for Stoke. Especially because we've had players overlooked by England. A lot of Stoke fans have adopted Ireland as their second team.

Read more: "Stevie O'Donnell Could Have Done That Role" - A Call For LOI Players To Be Included In Irish Squads

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