IT is a fight the Irish Football Association must win against the most powerful man in world football. No-nonsense boss Nigel Worthington is fed up with the Football Association of Ireland stealing Northern Ireland-born players.
He has demanded action and backs the IFA’s decision to fight FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his governing body at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Under FIFA statutes a player can only perform for a country if he is born in that particular nation or his parents/grandparents come from that country or if he has lived for two years continuously on the territory of the relevant association.
But last February, Blatter, at the Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle, Co Down, caused an international storm when he insisted the Republic of Ireland are entitled to select any player born in Northern Ireland who holds an Irish passport due to the Good Friday Agreement — totally against his and FIFA’s own rules.
In recent years, Londonderry-born Darron Gibson, and Marc Wilson from Aghagallon, have decided that their senior international futures lie with the Republic of Ireland.
Shane Duffy, also from Londonderry, who progressed through the IFA’s under-age teams, opted last week to play for the Republic. The Everton defender is quite entitled to do so as his father was born in Letterkenny and he has never played a competitive senior match for Northern Ireland.
However, it irks Worthington that the IFA have put plenty of money and resources into his development and some other country reaps the benefit.
Worthington believes the Irish Football Association are being treated unfairly and exploited.
He says it is imperative the CAS force FIFA to abide by their own rules and instruct the FAI that they can no longer pursue Northern Ireland-born players.
“I think the association is right and proper in what it is doing because no one else is looking after us. We have to look after ourselves,” fumes Worthington, who had a small pool of players to choose from for last night’s match in Tirana.
“We produced, in Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy, two very good players and two good players who will be around the top end of football for years to come. We put time and effort as an association into their international careers, as have the coaches who worked with them over the years.
“When the time comes, there is a loophole there that has been exploited and that’s not right.
“We need that dealt with firmly by people at the top end of football.”
Worthington was proud to play for his country on 66 occasions and is passionate about his job as Northern Ireland boss.
He believes it is the greatest honour in football to represent your own nation and struggles to comprehend why a player would even think about changing allegiance — especially if they have progressed through the international age groups.
“I find it difficult to understand, but if a player doesn't want to play for Northern Ireland, then good luck to him. I wish them no harm,” says Worthington
“If they don't want to play for us, then that's it. I will look forward and concentrate on the youngsters coming through.”
Everton youngster Duffy was on the bench for Northern Ireland’s friendly against Italy last May in Pisa.
Worthington admits that even then he knew the 18-year-old had major doubts and the IFA did try everything in their power to persuade him to stay with the country of his birth.
Worthington said: “We've been trying to deal with it in-house. Everton boss David Moyes has been first class from Northern Ireland's point of view. The lad has made his decision with his family, so I respect that. We will wait and see what happens in terms of our case.”