Saturday 23 September 2017

10 things Trap needs to do now

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"Did anyone resign in there?" asks an inquisitive Irish fan, standing in the lobby of Poznan's Novotel Malta.

He is conscious that Giovanni Trapattoni has just finished his final press conference of Euro 2012, with the 73-year-old dropping into media HQ before making his way to the airport for the flight home.

There was no such news to report.

Four and a half weeks after his first words of the tournament in Portmarnock, the Italian remains firm in his conviction. The equal worst performance in European Championship history, and Ireland's worst run of competitive defeats since 1971, have failed to shake that faith.

So, it is Trapattoni who will tasked with plotting the road to Brazil 2014. Even if the FAI wanted to take alternative action, they don't have the means to do so. The hierarchy have other things to worry about right now.

Ultimately, the financial health of the organisation revolves around the success of the senior team. And they desperately need Trapattoni's team to be competitive in the World Cup qualifiers.

Radical

That will depend on how he responds to events in Poland. A team with six 30-somethings needs an injection of fresh life and the players would welcome a revised game plan. Trapattoni is reluctant to commit to radical change.

"You can discuss a system a million times, but it has to be tested," he said, "But you can't put it together in two or three days."

The reality, however, is that he will only have that period of time with his players before they meet up ahead of the trip to Kazakhstan in September.

Therefore, August's friendly with Serbia has taken on particular significance. While the players may be looking forward to some holiday time, the manager has plenty of work to do in the interim.

Decisions taken over the next two months could have considerable ramifications for Ireland's Brazilian prospects. The Italian needs to progress several situations so his team can make the next step.

1 Persuade Richard Dunne to stay

The Dubliner was fairly down in the mixed zone after the Italy game, wondering aloud if it was about time this generation stood aside and found out if the next crop could do any better.

But he also said he would sit down with Trapattoni and discuss the quality of the options that are coming through.

The manager has made it clear this week there is no international-class replacement centre-half coming through the ranks.

Dunne would be helped by additional numbers in midfield and a more energetic team around him but, either way, Ireland can't afford to lose the 32-year-old Aston Villa veteran just yet.

He can still be a key player.

2 Clarify where Shay Given and Damien Duff stand

They seem the two most likely players to call time on their international careers. Duff was particularly upset on Monday night, while Given is naturally very down about how the tournament has gone. It is easy to make rash decisions in those circumstances.

The Donegal man still has four years remaining on his Aston Villa contract and performed well for the Birmingham club last season.

He could well be the only regular starting Irish 'keeper in the Premier League next term, and it would be unfortunate if we ended up in a situation where an SOS call is sent out in October.

Duff performed reasonably well this week, but there are options in his position.

3 Find out if Robbie Keane can accept being a squad player

The captain has always said that he would retire when he's not good enough. He's still only 31 years of age, but we have now reached a juncture where he is an obstacle to change.

If Trapattoni is to experiment with systems, then Keane doesn't fit into a lone striker role, as the Spanish game cruelly demonstrated. And he's no Francesco Totti either.

Keane failed to complete 90 minutes across the month, and an interrupted preparation in a struggling MLS team was hardly ideal preparation. If he moved back to the Premier League, he could still offer plenty, but there are certain games where the manager may have to take the hard call -- if he is brave enough -- and leave a big character on the bench. Could Keane live with that?

4 Call Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark again

Encouragingly, Trapattoni contacted both Wilson and Clark when he named his squad, even if it was to inform them they had missed out.

Revealing they were still in his plans represented progress, though, particularly with Wilson given his bizarre relationship with the Stoke man.

Both are regular Premier League performers who can offer cover across the defence and even in a holding midfield role. With Stephen Ward's Wolves on the way down, Wilson's top-flight experience at left-back offers a strong advertisement for his claims.

5 Tell James McCarthy he is needed in Serbia

The Wigan star is highly rated in football circles, and should take a leading role from this point onwards. Understandable family reasons led to his absence from this soiree.

Trapattoni has to pick up the phone, and stress that he is a valuable part of his plans. Although McCarthy has operated in a deep-lying role for his club, the Irish boss said yesterday that he is a player with quality that could convince him to change his system.

In other words, the Glaswegian could become the focal point of a three-man central midfield. His presence in Belgrade is therefore essential.

6 Take a trip to Norwich

Trapattoni has bemoaned the lack of goals from his midfield department. That's how he explained the logic for fielding strikers Simon Cox, Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in wide areas during the competition, challenging critics by asking how many goals Duff and McGeady contributed to the qualification effort.

Anthony Pilkington is a goalscoring midfielder who lined out for Ireland at underage level, but has hummed and hawed about his allegiance.

Now is the time for Trapattoni to nail him down and invite him into the fold. Pilkington was paying attention to Ireland's Euros games -- he tweeted his amazement at James McClean's lack of involvement.

Wes Hoolahan also deserves the courtesy of a discussion. He should be part of the squad as an alternative to McCarthy in a revised formation.

7 Spend August in England

A vexed point at this stage, perhaps, but while Trapattoni continually points out that he is better served in Italy watching games on DVD, there will be enough Irishmen involved in the opening weeks of the Premier League campaign to justify trips to England.

Over 30 Irish-qualified players lined out in the top flight last season, so there are plenty of grounds worth visiting. There are no competitive fixtures before Belgrade, but he can surely pinpoint some relevant high-calibre pre-season encounters.

8 Encourage Keiren Westwood to move on

If Given does decide to bid farewell, then the club situation of Sunderland's Westwood becomes a primary concern.

He is behind Belgian international Simon Mignolet in Martin O'Neill's pecking order, and if Trapattoni is to lose his established 'keeper, he wouldn't like to enter a World Cup campaign with a ring-rusty No 2.

A loan stint could benefit Westwood if he can't dislodge Mignolet before the close of the transfer window.

9 Trust the Derry contingent

Trapattoni claimed that both Darron Gibson and McClean will have learned plenty from the experience of the finals. McClean spent 15 minutes on the pitch against the Spanish. Gibson brooded on the sidelines for three games, and looked even more unhappy with life than usual.

"He can show us in the next future that he is ready for this," said Trapattoni. Gibson could argue that by lining out regularly for Everton, he has already proved a point.

Meanwhile, the manager did acknowledge that McClean deserves a proper chance in August. Hopefully, they're not empty words.

10 Stephen Ireland

Well, if all else fails...

Irish Independent

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