LEON Best has been told he could yet make the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012 – if he returns to fitness at Newcastle United.
The striker is steadily working his way back after suffering knee ligament damage in February, and returned to training last week.
Best started the campaign with high hopes of returning to the fold under Giovanni Trappatoni, and his club manager, Alan Pardew, backed his claims to a call-up, citing his form for Newcastle in the Premier League.
And the 25-year-old, after a lengthy exile from international football, was eventually recalled for Ireland’s play-off against Estonia last November after West Bromwich Albion’s Shane Long was ruled out through injury.
However, the luckless player had to pull out after suffering hip and groin problems in a United game.
Pardew feared Best’s latest injury, suffered against Aston Villa in February, would end his season.
But his rehabilitation is progressing well, and former United midfielder Mick Martin, on Trappatoni’s staff, has had a conversation with Best about his fitness.
“I spoke to Leon a few weeks ago, I bumped into him at the training ground,” Martin told the Gazette.
“He said his injury’s coming along nicely, and he asked me about Ireland.
“He’s been unlucky with injuries. He was doing well and scoring goals, and the manager had him in his sights for the Euros.
“I don’t know how this leaves him in relation to the squad, as there’s a bit of competition there.
“There’s Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox – that’s five.
“I said to him just to concentrate on getting back fit – that should be his first target.
“He’s got to make sure he’s fit before he comes back.
“And if he’s playing and doing well, the manager will be made aware of that very quickly.
“He had a great start to the season, and it would be great if he could be playing again before the summer.”