Martin O’Neill has pleaded for Republic of Ireland new boy Michael Obafemi to be given time as he prepares to step on to the international stage.
Amid the ongoing tug of war between the Republic and England over West Ham’s Declan Rice, 18-year-old Obafemi handed the Ireland manager a boost hours before Thursday night’s friendly against Northern Ireland when he insisted he was “100 per cent committed” to the country of his birth.
The Southampton striker, who also qualifies for England and Nigeria, did not make it off the bench in the 0-0 draw at the Aviva Stadium, but will now travel with the squad to Denmark for Monday night’s final Nations League B, Group 4 fixture, although his manager has warned he still has a lot to learn.
O’Neill said: “He’s certainly got promise about him. Naturally we’re pleased he’s committed himself to us.
“He’s obviously got work to do. He’s only been in and around the Southampton first team a couple of times, he’s very young, very raw, but he’s at an age he can be honed with time.
“That can certainly happen with his club and certainly in the future he can be a proper player for us, but it’s asking a lot of him for him to step in and immediately be the answer to our goal-scoring problem.”
The clamour for Obafemi’s introduction is understandable given that the Republic have failed to score in their last three games – they have not found the back of the net in 307 minutes of football – and have managed only four goals in their eight fixtures this calendar year.
O’Neill has repeatedly bemoaned the lack of a replacement for Robbie Keane, who plundered 68 goals in 146 senior appearances for his country, and the search for fresh talent is ongoing.
Obafemi’s career remains in its infancy – he currently has just three first-team appearances for his club under his belt – but he will travel now to Aarhus hoping for an international debut that O’Neill had insisted earlier this week he would not rush him into.
The manager said: “I think he should come to Denmark now he has made that commitment, so we will take him. I think he has a chance of performing there obviously.
“I said at the start of the week that if he did make that commitment to us, then probably we would take him. If he hadn’t made that commitment really there was no point.
“I spoke to him and he’s really happy. I spoke to his agent as well, who was pretty pleased himself. The call is made, he made the call an it really was up to him, that was the call.
“All the things were laid out in front of him and there was the treatment he had at under-age level here with the staff and the way he was received by the senior players.”