Scott Hogan: Mercenary or Misunderstood?
Seani Maguire most probably spent yesterday radiantly glowing after learning of his first call-up to the National Team after finishing Preston training. After leap-frogging Adam Rooney, he could be forgiven for thinking it would be a matter of time before Kevin Doyle could be usurped. Perhaps his phone was less active the next morning when news of Scott Hogan’s decision to declare for Ireland filtered through to him -- and with that rose an even greater challenge for the Preston-man.
Injury Rehabilitation or England?
Fan reaction to the news that Hogan would be soon in our ranks has been greeted by very mixed responses. Many have reacted to his decision to delay his decision to declare for Ireland as an example of a player degrading the honour of playing for Ireland.
The possible reasons offered up for the delay in the decision being made have been manifold. Silence from the player has lead to speculation and conjecture filling the void.
Many have accused him of holding out for an England call-up.
That, because he was a former team-mate of Jamie Vardy’s at Stockbridge and Halifax, somehow he felt his career trajectory was on a similar path to stardom and glory. Perhaps if his transfer to West Ham (a fee was reportedly agreed) had gone through and he’d become a Premier League goalscorer, the theory may well have been borne out. But this, we will never know.
The other reason put forward was that having recently returned from two successive anterior cruciate knee injuries he was using the international break to do extra rehabilitation work. A striker who avails of pace as a key weapon could understandably be very fearful of the impact any such injury could have on his mobility and playing ability.
But to Irish fans riven by the anxiety of our increasingly diminishing striker options, this all sounded like someone trying to buy time.
And in essence, that’s exactly what he was trying to do.
Why the Long Wait Scott?
Hogan’s decision has been a long time coming. Speculation first emerged at the tail end of the 2016 season after he’d scored 7 goals in his first 7 games (only 2 as a starter) after coming back from 19 months out with the knee injuries. Roy Keane had been to see him by that stage.
At this point (May 2016) in an interview with Mark Ogden he said (perhaps light-heartedly):
"If Roy Keane rang me up, I couldn't say no to Roy Keane. He is one of my heroes".
Around the same time, despite having spoken to Alan Judge, his Brentford teammate about the matter, he stated in a more circumspect manner that:
“There are much more things I'm worried about than declaring what country I can play for. My grandma and granddad are Irish – my late grandfather was as well.
“I'm eligible to play for them but I'm a Brentford player and the last thing I'm thinking of is who I'm going to represent internationally. It's getting ahead of myself a bit too much.”
Proclaiming himself as Jamie Vardy’s heir apparent this is not.
Indeed Judge himself made the following comments on the matter in October 2016:
"I honestly don't think he is holding out for an offer from England or anyone else, it is genuinely a case where he had two seasons out with injury and he has to look after himself.
I think he will come and play for us, he's not stalling for a better offer, he has the right to take his time after two years of hell with injury. He's played every minute of every game for us this season so he sees the international breaks as a chance to recover. If he does come and play for Ireland, he will be worth waiting for. He's a good striker, quick and strong and he's a natural goalscorer".
Surely an interview opportunity to explain his rationale on the timing of his decision is the least the man deserves?
Is Hogan “Irish Enough”?
The key issue around international commitment is identity. We have previously written here about the foreign born Irish who wear the green and the positive examples are there for all to see.
But national identity is much more nuanced in today’s globalised world. It is often the case that a person’s parents are not of the same nationality or culture as the country that the child grows up in. And with that it’s much more common that someone can hold dual identities at the same time. Why is it that one of the Boateng, Alcantara, or Xhaka brothers has to be deemed a ‘fraud’ for representing a different country to the other brother?
Hogan’s Irish story goes back much further than May 2016. He was called up to our U-21 squad in 2014.
“I got called up at Rochdale for the 21s but we had a game on the Friday and my manager didn't want me go so I didn't go”.
Hogan’s declaration for Ireland is not based on suddenly discovering he was eligible and all of a sudden switching on his Irish button. With three of Hogan’s four grandparents being Irish it is difficult to conceive that his upbringing in Salford did not contain a strong Irish influence. Two of his grandparents are still alive. Can any of you imagine telling your own Irish grandparent you don’t want to play for the country of their birth?
There have been a few Irish internationals, unlike guys like Connolly, Breen, Kilbane etc, who saw international football merely as a means to progress their careers. Ironically, Jack Grealish’s decision NOT to play for us also smacked of an agent hungry for his client’s “career” progression. Grealish’s Irish credentials are bone fide, Irish on both sides of the family, a childhood of playing Gaelic growing up in Birmingham etc.
But unfortunately Grealish doesn’t seem to have been blessed with the same humility and awareness of many of the aforementioned players.
Perhaps Hogan’s Villa move brought him face to face with error of Grealish’s ways.
Is He Actually Any Good?
We profiled him here in August 2016 along with a few others we thought had the potential to break into the senior squad within 12 months. Few did. Perhaps given he had only played 7 times by that stage we understated his quality somewhat.
In the coming months, he went on to score 14 in 25 games for Brentford, getting Championship Player of the Month for September before eventually joining Aston Villa at the end of January this year. His period at Villa has been poor for the club and he has yet to hit form there with a bad ankle injury interrupting his momentum. However, he seems like the kind of player that needs stability around him. Villa have been anything but stable of late.
What is not in doubt is this guy’s talent. He is not very tall yet is physically strong and a very good header of the ball. He can play as a lone striker and hold the ball up well yet he is probably best hanging off the shoulder of the last defender. This leads to a fair share of offside calls but so too does it get him in one on one’s with the keeper.
He is an extremely calm finisher and seems like a natural off either foot. His movement in the box is superb and has that rare striker’s sense of limiting the amount of touches he takes in preparing a shot. He leaves the ball come to him rather than trying to beat players.
And most importantly, the guy scores goals.
The Debate Aside
Whether you welcome Hogan’s impending selection or not, those fretting about the alarming age of our current striking options (and the difficulties associated with them discussed here) will breathe a bit more easily today. With Maguire’s rapid month-on-month improvement and Hogan now available for selection, our future striking options are looking considerably healthier than they have recently appeared.