Stuey Byrne joined Football Saturday to discuss Josh Cullen and his development into the Ireland team.
Josh Cullen is a key component of Stephen Kenny's Ireland.
The central midfielder started against Belgium alongside Jeff Hendrick in central midfield once again. Cullen has proven himself to be an outstanding ball-playing central midfielder. He lies deep and picks his passes to keep Ireland ticking over. And he's the type of player that Ireland haven't had for most of the last 15 years.
By linking play from back to front so effectively, Cullen is arguably Ireland's most irreplaceable player.
He's earned that spot by finding his way through a long journey in football. Although he's only 25 years of age, Cullen has travelled so much in his football career, literally and metaphorically, to become an Ireland starter. Stuey Byrne believes leaving West Ham was the key to his development.
"Identity is very important, especially for a player like Cullen," Byrne said.
"He's not a very physically imposing player. He's very tidy. Wes Hoolahan was tidy. Identity is very important to give him confidence to flourish as a player. Being at West Ham, he may not have put his best foot forward because his game wasn't going to suit the West Ham style of play.
"You're surrounded by midfielders who are 6'2" or 6'1"."
Cullen only played three times for West Ham. He was at the club as recently as 2020 but spent three seasons out on loan before departing the club. That was when he moved to Belgium and became an integral piece of Anderlecht's midfield. Without that move, Cullen doesn't become an Ireland starter.
"Therefore, he moves to Belgium and all of a sudden there's a different outlook here. He's being given the brief to go and play football. Size doesn't really matter here, just go and play. He's comfortable now in this team, that allows him to come out of his skin a little bit and I'm not at all surprised he's developed as a player.
"This issue of size. It's a real thing. People might go 'It can't be' but it is. Wes Hoolahan couldn't get a game for Ireland because of his size. I firmly believe that.
"Hopefully that's changing now."
He's no Xavi or Andres Iniesta, but Byrne perfectly captures the discrepancy between continental football and football in England.
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