Declan Lynch: Pope could pick better team than Trap
The God-given gift of free will doesn't seem to sit well with the present Irish manage
IN order to assess the contribution of Giovanni Trapattoni, we must always bear in mind the deep, deep Catholicism of the man. It is said that he knows the present Pope, who, as an Argentinian, would probably feel that he knows enough about football to pick Wes Hoolahan in midfield instead of, say, Paul Green.
Indeed Pope John Paul II, who was definitely a football man, would be up there in paradise now, thinking that he would not have selected Conor Sammon to start against Austria, and might not even have had him in the squad – no doubt Trap knew that pope too.
But above all, Trap knows his own mind, his own conscience. The fact that nobody else on earth or in heaven or in any other dimension knows it, is not a problem for him.
Indeed it merely strengthens his resolve, like the martyrs of old, to cling even more steadfastly to his beliefs.
And surely one of those core beliefs is the classical Catholic position well known to most of us from an early age, that we are not here just to enjoy ourselves.
The manager of Sweden, for example, put forward the not unreasonable argument that the roof of the stadium in Stockholm should be closed for the game. Given the shelter it would provide from the terrible cold, the closing of the roof might well have a beneficial effect on the quality of the football, and it would make the overall experience more pleasant for the spectators who had paid a lot of money for their tickets and who were perhaps entitled to some level of comfort.
If you put that argument to Trap, he would regard it as populism of the more outrageous kind, a surrender to the weakness of the flesh.
At the age of 74, he himself was perfectly prepared to stand out there in a Scandinavian gale watching the Irish lads trying to play football, and when the match duly went ahead with the roof closed, for him, it was just another sign of human weakness, of the fallen nature of Man.
Little wonder then, that the only two face-to-face interviews he has given to the print media during his time with the Irish, have been with The Irish Catholic and with a journalist who covers the Vatican for a national paper.
He will literally climb Croagh Patrick rather than pick a player who will commit the sin of over-indulgence, an offence which Trap tends to define in the narrowest possible sense. Almost any form of self-expression on the pitch is seen as an act of monstrous egotism, a sad reminder that the Good Lord gave us this thing called free will, but that we always use it for mischievous ends.
This is the message that comes from him, and ultimately from God.
And the older he gets, the less likely he is to be going off-message on this one.
There is not a football reporter out there who does not believe that he could pick a better team than Trap. And oddly enough, those reporters are right. And yet when he's gone, and they have to deal with some sort of a normal person again, maybe they will miss feeling this sense of righteousness.
International football, in truth, is a desert. For the genuine football person, it has become a terrible imposition, depriving us of our top, top Premier League and our Champions League action for the sake of inconsequential bullshit such as England vs San Marino and a lot of other bullshit which seems to exist mainly as a reminder of Sepp Blatter's misrule of FIFA.
It got so desperate last Saturday, some of us were hoping against hope that Northern Ireland's game against Russia wouldn't be postponed, thus giving us some small reason to go on living, on what is usually the most important day of the week. Otherwise, the only thing that could sustain us, was some act of egregious madness from Trap.
A personal favourite was the press conference in which it was put to him that he must be pleased with the performance of James McCarthy in Sweden, since he had originally left him out of the team – "No I didn't," Trap said.
Yes he did. But the way that Trap saw it, no he didn't.
Again it is quite plausible for a man of deep faith to accommodate contradictory positions in his capacious mind.
And soon those reporters who really do know better than Trap, will be looking at some modern man like Chris Hughton or Brian McDermott making the entirely reasonable point that the psychological state of his players is not something that he wants to discuss in public, and selecting a team that we can all agree with. But then anyone can do that.
Anyone can not pick Conor Sammon. But it takes a special man to walk in there and announce that Sammon will be leading the line, in accordance with some belief-system that nobody understands. Nobody, at least, in the secular world.
Trap used to feel that way about things when he was manager of Juventus, and he had to watch men like Michel Platini bringing their free will to bear on the situation. And he didn't like it then, so one can only imagine what he feels about Andy Keogh having a crack at it.
Vanity, all is vanity...