Stop patronising Glenn Whelan, it was embarrassing that Wes Hoolahan didn't start this game
How many times do you have to be called underrated until you're actually overrated?
Here's the thing about Glenn Whelan: he's not even that good at the job he's supposed to be good at.
His lack of command with the ball and dominance of a game is constantly excused because of the other qualities he's believed to bring to a team. His defensive abilities are said to be crucial and his positioning is lauded. He does a job, we're told - the dirty work that no-one else would ever dream of doing - so he gets away with actually doing very little.
In reality, the only genuinely accurate description of Whelan's game is that he does the unseen work. That's something that definitely can't be argued with.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) November 19, 2015
The truth is that Whelan is protected behind this vague but aggressive idea that his mere presence in front of a back four makes him indispensable to a football team and he's the sole reason that the rest of that side can go on and flourish in attack. Because they have the - wait for it - anchor.
Just a couple of things on that:
What is it so extravagant about what Ireland are doing that they couldn't possibly operate without a defensive midfielder who will stick so religiously to a position that he'll offer nothing else? They're lumping balls forward, for Christ's sake - everyone's defending anyway, bar Walters trying to flick on for McClean.
More importantly, Whelan's not really doing anything there either. He's there, sure, but it's not like he's making important tackles, he's not stopping one-twos, he's not making many interceptions and he sure as hell isn't taking control and directing the tempo of the game.
Ah, sure Mark Hughes and Martin O'Neill and Tony Pulis and all the rest of them can't be wrong - at least that's what we're told. But they are wrong and it's as simple as that.
All they're looking for is someone who will sit there in position and never stray from it. Some managers like players who offer no risk and, by offering little all else, Whelan is the perfect match. You could tell other players to sit there and under no circumstance not to vacate that post but they'd no sooner give a coach a heart attack anyway if they tried to do something on the ball.
So Whelan gets away with rolling it to his defenders as soon as he gets it and then edging closer to an opposition player so he's no longer an option. He even gets away with not doing anything really special defensively too because he simply doesn't make many big mistakes and you can trust him to stand where you want him to stand.
He's not always that bad - he's been good for Ireland some days - but the fact is that, in the Premier League this season just past, you'd have to gloss over 103 names to see Glenn Whelan on the list of interceptions made, with 36 over the whole campaign - just over one per game.
Harry Arter had more - 48.
Jeff Hendrick had more - 39.
Whelan isn't this effective breaker that he's made out to be. What he's doing isn't beyond the talents of anyone else. He's not doing much at all when you break it down, but that's why so many managers trust him.
Glenn Whelan gets enough stick but for God's sake does he not deserve some credit when it's due? https://t.co/KJpw6UTMP2
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) June 13, 2016
The difference was evident during the first half against Austria when the Stoke man rolled another one back towards Cyrus Christie. Harry Arter sprinted over screaming for the ball even though he was in a tight area but the full back opted for safety and went even further back to Duffy. Arter absolutely dug him out. He wanted that ball and he made damned sure his team mate knew about it because he doesn't just see his job a as a stopper, he's also the one responsible for starting.
He sees his job as a bloody midfielder.
Hoolahan can do this stuff too, the tackling and the intercepting and the harrying. He did it again when he came on at the Aviva 71 minutes too late and he did it just as effectively as Whelan did. But then he does other stuff. He tries to create chances. He did that within 100 seconds of being brought on when Austria desperately cleared one off the line from his Italy-esque cross.
For about 10 minutes, Ireland had the opposition by the pin of their collars but, for those last 10 minutes, there was this ghastly realisation around the place that Austria weren't up to much at all. To put it bluntly, everyone realised just how shite Austria were.
And yet, for most of the game, Ireland didn't even try to beat them. That was evident when we picked Whelan to play instead of Hoolahan and it was evident when we hoisted aimless balls forward all evening at home to a rank average side that eventually wilted under a bouncing ball for Jon Walters to chase in behind.
With the mild, predictable, brief pressure that Ireland did apply, the Austrians, to a man, looked like a hungover Sunday League footballer taken by surprise and almost annoyed that his marker was actually up for the cup final.
All this game required was Wes Hoolahan playing in front of a slow, shaky Austria defence. All it got was Whelan pretending like we really needed that much cover for the Ireland defence.
It just would've taken one switch - the whole country could see it - maybe even just earlier in the game than the 71st minute if not before it. But, instead, we opted to live in hope with our attacks once more because Whelan is supposed to make us better defensively.
We opted for no-risk, fearful football.
And we did that against Austria who could not have been more ripe for the kill.