Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is prioritising midfield additions to his squad ahead of the new campaign with Jordan Flores looking set to sign for League One side Hull City.
The Puskas nominated midfielder had not been accepting calls from either chairman Bill Hulsizer or Giovagnoli over Christmas with reports from England on Monday morning suggesting that the 25-year-old had passed a medical at the KCOM Stadium.
Giovagnoli had told The Argus on Sunday that he would still be open to talking to Flores should he wish to walk but that prospect looked distinctly unlikely as a move to Grant McCann’s side looked imminent at the time of going to print.
“We tried to contact him but I don’t know what he wants to do,” the Italian said when asked about the Wigan native’s future on Sunday.
“Jordan had a really good end to the season so maybe he is taking time to reflect and look around him to see if he has other opportunities. We don’t know.
“I had a conversation with him almost at the end of the season and he asked me to stay but there has been nothing further. “I think, for the Jordan Flores that finished the season, our doors can still be open but let’s see what happens. It’s up to him right now.”
Regardless of whether Flores stays or goes, at least one more midfielder remains a top priority for the FAI Cup winners.
While a move for Bastien Hery was never a runner and speculation linking Richie Towell with a return to Oriel Park a long shot for now at least, another former Hibernian player is on the radar. The Argus understands that the club are currently running the rule over former Scottish U-21 midfielder Sam Stanton, who was most recently on the books of Phoenix Rising FC in American where he won the Western Conference last year and reached the USL Championship Final, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Asked about the possibility of another central midfielder, Giovagnoli said: “Oh yeah, we’re looking for a top player there.
“I’m scouting a lot of players and Jim is doing the same. We are always in communication and we are looking to add a top midfield player like we have in other positions.
“To be honest, until now we’ve only signed top players with big profiles. Of course they have to stay within the budget but we’re going to pick up another strong player in that position for sure,” he said.
Dundalk have also been linked with wingers Gabriele Cappani and Han Eui-Kwon. While a deal for the Italian is unlikely, Giovagnoli is hoping of securing a dealer the 26-year-old South Korean who was released by Suwon Samsung Bluewings last week.
“Gabriele Cappani is a kid who we had in our youth environment. Then he grew up and went to AC Milan. We know him really well and (assistant) Giuseppe (Rossi) used to train him personally. “Of course, he is a huge talent but I don’t think it is going to happen because he is under contract at AC Milan. At the moment he is on loan at a third division team in Italy but I don’t think we can do it now. It would be an amazing though because he is an amazing talent.
“The other one, the Korean, I don’t think there’s anything official as yet but I think we’re close to him.
“He’s another super important player. It was Jim who found him and if he’s coming then of course our team profile will change completely. We’ll have a lot of international players and with a player like Han it can add a lot of quality and a lot of pace. It’s an exciting one but let’s see if we can do it,” he said.
Giovagnoli said he would be looking to operate with a squad of roughly 23 for the coming season. At present there are 19 players on the books for 2021 but doubts surround whether Stefan Colovic or Will Patching will remain.
The coach said: “The optimum situation would be to have two players for every position more or less or have players who are adaptable to playing in a couple of positions.
“At the end of the day if you have three goalkeepers and 20 outfield players then I think you’re okay. Then we’re also going to have young players who will be with us from our academy but I think that would be a good number to manage, more or less.”
Jordan Flores might not yet have played 100 games in his career but he is hoping to tick off a few major boxes before Christmas.
The midfielder was last week nominated for the prestigious FIFA Puskas Award for best goal of 2020 for his stunning volley against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium back in February.
Going head to head with some of the biggest names in football such as Luis Suarez and Son Heung-min for the prize, the 25-year-old will learn on December 11th if he has made the final shortlist of three for the award before the overall winner is announced on December 17th.
Before all that he is determined to help Dundalk to secure what would be the first point in their Europa League group stage campaign away to Molde on Thursday while he will be hoping to find the net against Rovers again on Sunday when a victory would complete his clean sweep of domestic medals having won the league, EA Sports Cup, President’s Cup and Unite the Union Champions Cup in his debut season at Oriel Park last year.
While his strike in Tallaght Stadium at the start of the year was mentioned as a possible Puskas winner back in February, the Wigan man admitted he had largely forgotten about it before being told of his nomination by team-mates last Wednesday.
“I didn’t have a clue about it to be honest,” he said after netting his fifth goal of the season against Athlone on Sunday.
“I had kind of put it to the back of my mind.The first I heard of it was Wednesday. I woke up and the lads had it in the WhatsApp group and they were all congratulating me and initially I was like ‘what for?’ but I was delighted when I heard.”
Flores admits he is a little unsure as to how the process goes from here but is no doubt hoping as many people as possible log on to vote for him before the December 9th deadline.
“I’ve not got a clue about what happens now.
“As far as I’m aware it has to get down to three goals from the initial 11. I’m not sure what happens after that but hopefully I get into the top three. If not, it’s still nice to be nominated anyway.”
Now Flores is hoping to play a part in what promises to be a big month for Dundalk with Europa League matches against Molde and Arsenal either side of Sunday’s Cup final.
“You want to be involved in these big games, especially the Cup finals,” he said.
“The group stages really haven’t gone the way we wanted them to but there’s still two big games where we want to pick up points and do ourselves proud. It’s a big month coming up.”
Whether he’s on the pitch or on the bench when the Europa League theme tune belts out ahead of Dundalk’s Group B opener against Molde at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday, Jordan Flores can afford himself a brief moment to look to the sky and be thankful for where he is in life.
It will be three years this Friday since the 25-year-old midfielder was involved in a potentially career-threatening two car collision on his way to training with Chesterfield, where he was on loan from home town club Wigan Athletic.
He would spend a total of three weeks and two days in hospital, during which time he was told by doctors that he would never play again.
Some 1,096 days on, Flores feels he is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the crash but admits he is lucky to be where he is right now.
“If you had said to me three years ago that I’d be getting ready for a Europa League game, I’d have taken that,” he smiled.
“It has been a long tough road since the accident and I still think I’m recovering from it with my back and stuff but if someone had said to me three years ago I’d be here now in the Europa League group stages I’d have thought no chance so I’ve come a long way.”
Flores’ accident, which saw him suffer a major foot injury, couldn’t have come at a worse time for him career wise. Just seven days earlier he had scored his first goal for Chesterfield in a 2-0 win away to Crawley Town while he had featured in all 15 of the League Two side’s matches that season before the collision involving his Mercedes GLA and a Toyota Auris on October 23rd.
“It was a tough time,” he said reflecting back on the incident.
“There’s obviously never a good time for these things to happen but it was probably the first time in my career that I had started to get regular games and for that to be cut short was tough mentally and physically but I’m here now so I can’t complain.
“The day after the accident the doctor said to me I’ll never play football again but luckily everything healed in the right way.
“I’ve worked hard to get back to here but I’m still going now. I’ve only played about 80 matches at 25 years old so it’s not a lot but hopefully the best days are still ahead.”
There was slight progress for the Englishman on Monday when he featured and scored in Dundalk’s 2-1 win away to Derry City in the league. That appearance means he has played more for the Lilywhites in this shortened campaign than last year when a hip injury saw him miss most of the campaign.
He feels he still has work to do, however, to impress new boss Filippo Giovagnoli, who he described as the best manager he has ever worked for.
“I was happy to get a start on Monday but I felt my own performance wasn’t the best.
“I had a little bit of an injury when the manager came in and it has kind of set me back a little bit. I’ve been in and out of the team which has disrupted my momentum but I’m just working hard in every training session to get up to speed. I don’t think I’m out of place but you can tell I’m not quite there yet.
“I came back from a big injury last season and tried to strengthen from that but there’s still work to do.
“It’s good for me that there’s so many games coming up because it will help me get my minutes up. There’s definitely minutes there to be got and hopefully I can start putting a good performance in every time I’m on the pitch.”
Indeed, Flores would love nothing more than to make his mark in Europe in the weeks ahead.
“It’d be a dream come true to play in the Europa League group stages,” he said looking ahead to a group that also contains Arsenal and Rapid Wien.
“Playing in Europe is very exciting. It’s the reason I came over here in the first place. It’s just a great experience to be involved in and hopefully we can do ourselves proud now.
“I think we can achieve big things. We’ve got our big draw against Arsenal and obviously everyone will be excited to play in those but against the other teams we feel we can pick points up against them. We’ll just see what happens though. We’ve got plenty of games left between the league, the Cup and the Europa League so we’re just taking it a game at a time to see what happens.
“We’ve had a pretty tough season. We had a good start, then Covid hit and we had a bit of a dip but everything is going in the right direction now. The camp is buzzing and everyone is in a great mood so let’s hope for good things,” he said.
Dundalk v Molde kicks-off at 5.55pm on Thursday and will be broadcast live on Virgin Media Two.
Jordan Flores has noticed a fair few similarities between his home town of Wigan and Dundalk since arriving here at the start of last year but how both clubs have treated their players, staff and fans in recent weeks is one stand-out difference.
While the Lilywhites board have continued to pay wages and provide various other supports for the side throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, things have gone in the opposite direction at Flores’ former side Wigan Athletic, who last week went into administration just weeks after a change of ownership.
As a life-long fan of The Latics, Flores has been keeping a close eye on the situation but even he is baffled as to how Paul Cook’s side – who had been the in-form team in the Championship up until their defeat to Brentford on Saturday – have found themselves in this position.
“A lot of the players have left since I was there but some of the staff are still there. I’m not entirely sure and I don’t think they are either about what exactly is going on,” he said.
“I know they’re investigating it but as it is it’s very sad.
“It’s a great family club. I used to go to the games all the time before I started playing for them and I’d have met a lot of my friends through that.
“That’s the main reason you want the club to keep going because, a bit like Dundalk, it’s such a big part of the community and it brings everyone together. It does a lot for the schools and the town itself so hopefully it’ll be put back in good hands.”
With rumours doing the rounds that the club may have been sacrificed to ensure a bet that they would be relegated comes off, Flores is hoping they aren’t true.
“It’s mental. I know they’re only rumours but if all the rumours are true then it’s one of the biggest scandals that has ever happened in football.
“All my family and myself, we’re all Wigan fans so we’re just hoping that someone will come and buy the club and that it will all get resolved quickly.”
Thankfully, the midfielder couldn’t be happier with how he has been treated at Oriel Park.
“The club has been brilliant through this time,” he said.
“You see a lot of stuff that is going on in the League of Ireland with other clubs so we just count ourselves lucky that we’ve got owners and staff who actually care about us. It brings us all together more when we get support through something like this. They’ve just been brilliant.”
While the first great footballing love of his life is struggling right now, his current side are on the verge of a return to action, something the 24-year-old can’t wait for.
Flores was part of the group which took part in a 11 v 11 training game on Friday and is now looking forward to the first friendly against Derry City this Friday ahead of the return of the league on July 31st.
“It was good to get back playing a competitive match even if it was just between ourselves but with the two teams we can put together from our squad, it’s as good a quality as any friendly that we’d get anyway so it was good to start off with that and then obviously now we’ve the first friendly this week so it’ll be good to get back into a competitive environment and mood.”
While competition for places will be tough, Flores is hopeful it can push each and every player on.
“It will be tough for people fighting for places but that’s the industry we’re in,” he said.
“Everyone is looking to start and everyone is going to be training harder so that can only be a good thing because everyone will be pushing each other and that will mean we get the best out of each other.
“I’ve been in big squads before and it’s probably a good thing to keep pushing ourselves.
“It’s a shame there’s only 13 games. It seems that as soon as we get started the season will get cut short but it is better than no games I guess.”
The season being cut short was a particular blow for Flores, who had started well on top of creating global headlines with his stunning volley in the 3-2 defeat away to Shamrock Rovers in February.
“It was a blow for the season to be halted because for the last few years I’ve been battling with injuries but the start of the season was the first time in quite a while that I felt myself.
“I felt I was performing well so lockdown came at a bad time for me I guess but I’ve not taken my foot off the gas. I’ve kept on working hard over lockdown so hopefully I’ll just continue on from how it was going at the start of the season.”
One silver lining about the opening games not being axed is that his wonder strike will now count with a nomination for FIFA’s Puskas Award still a possibility.
“I’ve not really thought about it to be honest,” he laughed.
“After the week that came after it with all the interviews I just pushed it to the back of my mind and I’ve not even really watched the goal since then either.
“Come the end of the season, if it happens, it happens but either way the memories of the goal will always stay with me because it was quite a good moment even though we lost the game. I’ll be trying to score a few more hopefully when we’re back.”
As well as the league, there’s also Europe to look forward to. One-legged games mean there is a real cup tie feel to the qualifiers but having been present in Wembley to see Wigan shock Man City in the 2013 FA Cup final, Flores knows it can be good to dream too.
“I was there with all my family,” he said of the day Ben Watson’s 91st minute strike sealed the biggest triumph in the club’s history.
“It was a good day so we’ll be looking for something special like that to happen in whatever round we get to. Hopefully we’ll push further than we did last season.
“There’s more pressure in a sense because it’s literally just one game.
“It’s like a cup game now and if you lose you’re out but it might be a little bit better in terms of being able to prep for the game. After the last few months we’re just all looking forward to it, especially myself because I was injured for the whole of the European campaign last season so I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play in them.”
Jordan Flores’ wonder strike against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night might not have helped his side to victory but it has created headlines all over the world.
The Dundalk midfielder scored an absolute worldie when he met Michael Duffy’s corner high on the volley to rifle an unstoppable effort past Alan Mannus to make it 1-1 in the 22nd minute of Friday’s game at Tallaght Stadium.
While Vinny Perth’s side would ultimately lose 3-2, the goal and the game proved a fantastic advertisement for the league. Indeed, at the time of writing it had been viewed around five million times on Twitter alone.
Even the FIFA account shared it, saying that it could be in the line for the coveted Puskas award.
The stunning strike also featured on Match of the Day and on the Late Late Show.
Sky Sports News called it a “wonder-volley” and have featured it on their Saturday bulletins.
“It’s the kind of volley Zinedine Zidane would have been proud of,” they said of the goal from the SSE Airtricity League.
The France Football website site named it “La folle reprise de volée” – “The crazy volley.”
The Sky Sports Soccer Saturday panel was also impressed with the bullet strike.
Former Celtic and Arsenal forward Charlie Nicholas said: “It reminds me of [Robin] van Persie’s goal against Charlton [for Arsenal in 2006], it was that type of technique. What a strike!”
Paul Merson said: “Oh, that is unreal, that’s one of the best goals I’ve seen.”
Meanwhile, Spanish sports daily AS claimed that “The 2020 Puskas Award has just been ‘won’ by Dundalk’s Jordan Flores.”
The Sun newspaper in England also hailed the former Wigan and Blackpool midfielder’s strike, saying it “will be on end-of-season highlight reels across the globe.”
On social media, former Liverpool and Germany midfielder Dietmar Hamann described it as the “goal of the century, best I’ve ever seen.”