Football: Giggs' commitment questioned

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The Independent Online
The Republic of Ireland are in Cardiff, although who is present is not bothering Wales at the moment half as much as who is missing. The principality has got itself into a lather about Ryan Giggs and for the first time the sentiments fall far short of adulation.

A record of no appearances in Wales friendlies has turned a portion of the public into sceptics about the Manchester United winger and the mood is not particularly wholesome. Local papers have questioned his commitment to the country and, according to reports, even his grandparents have appealed to him to turn out soon to spare them from abuse.

Giggs is the Welsh player as far as the public is concerned and his absence with a calf strain has overshadowed other no-shows - seven in all. In theory, the friendly with the Irish, who will not name their team until this morning, was to prepare the side for next month's World Cup qualifier against Belgium, instead it has become an experiment Bobby Gould might feel he could have done without if they lose.

To compound the Welsh manager's frustration, the fax from Old Trafford withdrawing Giggs arrived 24 hours late and the story appeared in newspapers before Gould was informed. "If the lad is injured I have to accept that," he said. "I would never challenge a manager if he says a player is not fit. The last thing I want is confrontation.''

The Welsh public would be happy to confront Giggs or, in particular, the United manager, Alex Ferguson, who is seen as the true villain of the piece, but if they doubt the commitment coming from Manchester they are assured about Nottingham. Mark Crossley, the Forest goalkeeper, makes his debut with managerial approval already ringing in his ears.

Crossley, who was born in Barnsley, persuaded Gould to play him by hard labour off the field as much as on it. "The way he has done the work to prove his eligibility for Wales is a quality I haven't seen before," he said.

Karl Ready, the Queen's Park Rangers centre-back, also makes his debut in a side which, with Vinnie Jones, Barry Horne, Mark Hughes and John Hartson, is unlikely to be accused of faint-heartedness. Indeed the prospect of that collection competing against Roy Keane could have blood-sports protesters filling the stands, never mind football supporters.

The National Stadium will be three-quarters empty, which means what could be Paul McGrath's last appearance in an international in Britain will go largely unnoticed. The 37-year-old returns for the Irish, refreshed by a new marriage and a low alcohol intake, and will pit his patched-together body against Hughes. Unfortunately for the Republic's prospects, Liverpool's Phil Babb was forced to withdraw from their squad yesterday with a knee injury.

You could call it the ageing matador against the raging bull. Gould posed the question to his squad yesterday whether there is such a thing as a friendly. "Definitely not," one soft voice replied. It belonged to Hughes.

WALES: Crossley (Nottingham Forest); Ready (Queen's Park Rangers), Speed (Everton), Symons (Manchester City); Robinson (Charlton), Horne (Birmingham), Jones (Wimbledon), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Legg (Birmingham); Hartson (Arsenal), Hughes (Chelsea).