Martin O’Neill has admitted a training ground spat with his assistant Roy Keane may have prompted Harry Arter to make himself unavailable for the Republic of Ireland.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who is currently on loan at Cardiff from Bournemouth, has withdrawn from the squad for Thursday night’s Nations League opener in Wales and the friendly trip to Poland which follows it.
Ireland boss O’Neill confirmed last month that Arter and Jonathan Walters had been involved in a disagreement with Keane in the run-up to the June friendly against the United States, and while he insisted the midfielder’s decision is due in part to his intention to concentrate on his club career, he acknowledged that the dispute may well be a factor.
Speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Monday afternoon, O’Neill said: “That may be part of the reason, it could well be, if that’s the case.
“He’s got a number of things to consider. He’s got a fresh start with Cardiff now. Bournemouth were happy enough to let him go out on loan and it’s a start for him again, so there are a number reasons. I wouldn’t deny that that would be one of them.”
Arter’s withdrawal follows hot on the heels of West Ham defender Declan Rice’s decision to turn down a call up for a first competitive appearance for Ireland, with England manager Gareth Southgate having sounded him out about representing the country of his birth instead.
O’Neill, who flatly denied rumours that Rice’s absence was also the result of a brush with Keane, indicated there could yet be a way back for Arter, who would have gone to the Euro 2016 finals but for a last-minute injury.
He said: “I don’t see why not. I think he has to clear his mind.
“He’s a very decent footballer. Obviously, things have stalled for whatever reason at club level. He wants to get that going again and as I said, if he clears his mind and all the issues have been resolved, I don’t see why not.”
While admitting Keane may have had a part to play in Arter’s absence, O’Neill was quick to play down the clash involving the pair and Walters, who was due to meet up with the squad on Tuesday evening.
The former Nottingham Forest midfielder said: “I’m the manager. I respect his decision. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I’ve respected it.
“I did tell Harry that having a fall-out with management, I was the right person to talk to – I had about 15 years of it. I used to lose all arguments with [Forest boss] Mr [Brian] Clough, but I ended up winning two European Cups.”
He added with a smile: “I know it’s the old cliched phrase to say these things, but these things happen.
“I have been involved almost five years here and I’ve had one or two scrapes with one or two players myself who are bigger and stronger than me.
“I was looking round for a little bit of help from my backroom staff and it wasn’t forthcoming. That’s when you realise how unpopular you are.”
O’Neill added: “In my time as a manager, I think I’ve succeeded in forming a pretty vibrant group who for the vast majority of players actually want to play for the team, want to play for each other and naturally want to play for themselves. There are exceptions.”