Two of those cameos were of approximately four minutes duration each, the longest lasted 17. He hasn’t started a match for Phil Brown’s side since August, boasts just over half an hour of Premiership action in the course of four months, and celebrated his call-up to the Irish squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifier against Georgia by playing for the Hull Reserves who defeated their Everton counterparts 1-0 at the Halton Stadium in Widnes last Tuesday night.
If that seems unorthodox preparation for the rigors of international football, what about Liam Miller, another readying himself for the visit of Hector Cuper’s side?
After arriving at Queen’s Park Rangers last week, no doubt hoping the move might revitalize his flagging career, he didn’t even make the bench for their subsequent 2-0 victory over Derby County.
Given that Miller, whose last and only Sunderland start this season came back in September, hasn’t kicked a competitive ball in two months, QPR’s Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa presumably thought better of immediately risking him in a Championship game.
Obviously, he operates under very different criteria than Giovanni Trapattoni.
Even allowing for the complexity of the cases involving Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland, and the perennially unfashionable Lee Carsley, Ireland’s Italian manager has made some truly bizarre selection moves during his brief time in charge.
He has been allowed to get away with many of them – the baffling presence of Miller and Folan in this squad is only typical of the genre – because the results have been decent, his CV is impressive if a tad outdated, and, when it comes to chancing the arm, his accent just happens to be note-perfect.
See, in professional football, a little accent can go a long way especially when the person involved is gamely attempting to speak in a different language.
“My habit for 30 years has been I never speak about private situations, not only Reid or Ireland, but all players,” said Trapattoni, when announcing his squad in Dublin last week.
“I don’t want to speak about this situation. I choose a system. I think about Andy Reid and Lee Carsley and Ireland. I need the players to repeat, repeat and repeat this system and we have a problem. Three or four of our players play always for their clubs, but others don’t. We have a solid balance in our system. We need players with experience, we also need running and we need heart.”
If Trapattoni’s name was Gerry Treacy and he was up there in a thick Dublin accent trying to justify the failure to bring back the most gifted Irish footballer of his generation, the unseemly quarrelling with Reid, and the mystifying perseverance with so many never-weres who are struggling at club level, he’d be lambasted at every turn. And rightfully so too.
A country with as shallow a talent pool as Ireland can ill afford to be selecting career substitutes ahead of battle-hardened first-team regulars like Carsley.
We don’t need to look to far back to see there’s a double standard in play here. Long before results started going wrong for him, Brian Kerr used to be lampooned for his hectic schedule and occasionally lunatic efforts to try to take in as many games involving Irish players as was humanly possible.
In stark contrast, Teflon Trapattoni has been scarcely criticized at all for spending so much of his reign scouting his potential squad by watching DVDs in the comfort of his Milan home.
Indeed, his presence at two games in Lancashire eight days ago was almost enough to make people think he was taking the whole thing too seriously.
That Kerr would be mocked for being so devoted while Trapattoni’s selection by remote control policy curiously accepted is indicative of the football world’s willingness to swallow any old theory as long as it’s delivered in a continental accent.
This peculiar phenomenon is an offshoot of the historic insularity of the English game (of which whether we like it or not our national team is a satellite).
Before the Premiership and all that money started swirling around, foreigners came to play in the island next door with such irregularity that it was generally assumed if any of them attempted to speak to the natives at all that they must be intelligent.
Witness the ridiculous way in which Gianluca Vialli and Eric Cantona, amongst others, were treated by the British media.
The average Vialli press conference during his stint in charge at Stamford Bridge was just one step up from listening to Manuel, the waiter in Fawlty Towers, hold forth.
Yet, his valiant attempts at pidgin English were somehow construed as sophisticated. Similarly, Eric Cantona only had to turn up his collar, spout occasional rubbish en Anglais, and affect a baffling air of mystique in order to persuade journalists his was a superior intellect struggling with the inanity of the sport.
This is not a peculiarly British or Irish tendency either. When Japan first fell in love with football, the place was soon over-run with charlatans from Brazil working as coaches.
Beyond actual professionals capable of doing a job, there were hundreds more who were there because the simple fact of their nationality was enough to get them taken seriously. No sooner had America discovered the beautiful game back in the seventies than an English accent became the first (and in some cases the only) qualification required of anybody looking to manage a professional team.
The Japanese and the Americans can be forgiven their naivet