Sport Soccer

Sunday 30 April 2017

5 things Trap got right ... and the 5 he got wrong

A successful campaign yes, but it hasn't all been plain sailing for the Ireland manager, says David Kelly

David Kelly

David Kelly

Ireland are a team moulded into the form of their manager's liking. Any fantasists expecting renewal of personnel and revolution in style can whistle in the wind. What got them here will propel them forwards.

Ireland's zen-like calm as they approached their final frontier seemed a surprise to some observers, but this feeling diminished when reflected through the prism of the serene, ageless Giovanni Trapattoni.

Criticisms of method may linger, repugnance at the increasingly vaudevillian celebrations of the CEO may persist and disquiet at the lack of engagement between the manager and Irish football people may persevere.

It matters little now. The strict adherence to results at all costs has delivered the one outcome that matters -- qualification.

It wasn't all plain sailing and Ireland got as much wrong as they got right throughout the campaign. But they got there in the end. And so we should expect little to change between now and the summer.

Five things Trapattoni

got right

The system

The manager's long-held conviction that, aside from the stalwart senior figures of his side -- the quartet of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane -- Ireland possess little substantial quality utterly underpins his devotion to his rigid 'systema'.

While at times during the campaign, he hinted at the potential to tinker with the 4-4-2 formation, particularly when presented with fledgling James McCarthy's emergence, he has resisted.

Consistency in approach has been the watchword under Trapattoni, and that has ultimately reaped its reward in terms of results as Ireland now stand on the verge of qualification.

Respect

When Trapattoni received what seemed to be the most significant of snubs ahead of last May's Four Nations tournament after a slew of withdrawals, the austere Italian risked his reputation to augment his strength of management.

He outlined his anger at the manner in which players such as Marc Wilson, Anthony Stokes, McCarthy and Jonathan Walters pulled out of the squad at the time without making decent efforts to contact either him or the FAI.

A line in the sand had been drawn and Trapattoni's forceful point had been made -- respect for the manager was non-negotiable and his authority was significantly enhanced.

Loyalty

Trapattoni has ensured that he has commanded the undying loyalty of his squad -- whether it is underlying his opposition to impromptu drinking sessions or insisting that his football philosophy is strictly obeyed.

The senior cabal of his experienced players -- media-shy Duff notwithstanding -- have been vociferous in their defence of both the manager's tactics and, more significantly, Trapattoni's worthiness to receive a new contract.

That loyalty has been reciprocated by some outstanding individual displays, with Keane nabbing vital goals, and the performances of Given and Dunne in Moscow will remain stand-out moments.

squad depth

Despite his reluctance to cast his net beyond his established squad players, Trapattoni has gradually improved the strength in depth of his collective throughout the qualification period.

At left-back, Stephen Ward has, despite a worrying uncertainty at times, stepped up to wrest the berth from the previously impregnable hold of Kevin Kilbane.

Up front, the belated emergence of Walters and Simon Cox have made Ireland's striking options better than at any time in recent history.

Keiren Westwood, aided by some much-needed Premier League experience, has provided secure back-up to Shay Given, as he demonstrated in the qualifier at home to Macedonia.

defensive organisation

While it would have been possible for most managers of moderate ability to improve upon the shambolic Steve Staunton era, Trapattoni has built from the back.

He has repeatedly outlined that while he nominally sends every team out to win, the fundamental requirement not to concede underlines his managerial philosophy, distrustful as he is of the players in front of the defence.

The epitome of this defensive solidity emerged when Ireland maintained a seventh successive clean sheet on a memorable night in Moscow; in total, they blanked the opposition in half their qualifying games.

Five things Trapattoni

got wrong

inflexible approach

Too often during the campaign, Ireland's rigid approach ceded the momentum to the opposition, predominantly at home, and Trapattoni's teams have now become more adept at playing away from their fortress.

Despite offering the slightest chink of light, the manager has stubbornly refused to alter his tactical approach and will remain utterly justified in his own mind as a result of qualification.

Whether Ireland could have been able to challenge Russia's authority with a more flexible approach is hypothetical at this stage. But it certainly never looked as if he was willing to try something different.

russian roulette

Easily the lowest point of Ireland's campaign was the stunning home defeat to Russia, albeit masked by a typically character-driven comeback to limit the bleeding in Lansdowne Road.

Trapattoni's bizarre assertion that he had prior knowledge of Russia's tactical approach was matched by his equally baffling inability to counter it in any fashion.

The defeat meant that Ireland could not afford any more slip-ups in their quest for a play-off spot, and only Slovakia's late implosion in the qualifying campaign and some Moscow heroics saved the manager's blushes.

striking condemnation

Trapattoni's indifference to the whims of his players has proven to be a strength at times, but there were occasions when his treatment of his stalwarts was markedly awry.

Kevin Doyle was treated abysmally by the manager during this campaign as the Italian responded less than sympathetically to his injury travails, and Shane Long was also subject to the manager's scepticism after missing the home tie against Slovakia.

Neither player's character can be called into question and Trapattoni should immediately take steps to smooth out any creases in their relationships.

couch potato

Trapattoni has argued that he is better served watching an extensive array of DVDs in the comfort of his Milan home rather than discommoding himself every weekend by travelling to England.

However, his assimilation of new players could have been accelerated had he paid more attention to events in England; however much he stresses that every Irish player is on his radar, the argument has been diluted by his reluctance to appear at English football grounds.

Treatment of midfielders

Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews came under sustained criticism from pundits and supporters throughout the campaign but they were victims of their manager's straitjacketed approach.

Contrary to their club roles, neither player is encouraged to move beyond the ball -- marking Andrews' opening goal last Friday night as a startling oddity -- and they have constantly been exposed by opposing midfield trios.

With the numbers against them, they have appeared hopelessly limited but, as Whelan once acutely observed, if he tried to play differently he would be dropped for an alternative, cowed colleague.

Five things Trapattoni

must do

see more matches

Trapattoni has nearly six months' worth of opportunity to finalise his 23-man squad for the World Cup and, even if 21 probably pick themselves, the prospect of last-minute injuries mean he must have all options covered.

Abandoning his reluctance to travel to England on a weekly basis would be a welcome start, particularly as Ireland only have one friendly between now and May in which to view prospective candidates.

build bridges

It would be helpful if Trapattoni's cold relationship with some of the Irish players -- inside and currently outside his squad -- could melt a tad.

For example, it is difficult to square Kevin Kilbane's contribution to the Irish team over the past decade and a half compared to the impersonal manner in which he was treated by the manager upon his initial exclusion from the squad.

True, not all of Ireland's squad arouse much empathy from the normal supporter, but there are enough honest characters in the team who are deserving of a little more respect.

plan b

There is an assumption that Ireland's away approach to matches will inure them to exposure to embarrassment against the world's top sides in Poland and Ukraine next summer.

However, their consistent inability to cope with teams who outnumber them in midfield has already been ruthlessly exploited and that scenario is likely to recur. An alternative style needs to be at least tentatively broached, but will Trapattoni have the time or the will to change?

sort contract

This is more his CEO's area of concern, but Trapattoni has not been shy about making Delaney and the Irish public aware that there are seemingly employers in all four corners of the globe pining for his services.

If he really wants to lead Ireland to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, then it is time for himself and Delaney to sit down and bang their heads together to end all the disruptive contract talk. The prospect of him walking out between now and June is simply untenable and a new contract must be a priority.

engage with the grassroots

Trapattoni's willingness to distance himself from the English Premier League is matched by a seeming reluctance to engage with the thousands of Irish football volunteers throughout the country.

Whenever the Italian has pitched up among the football community of the country, it has merely dovetailed with match times or squad announcements.

If he really is at the top of Irish football's pyramid, engaging more realistically with the rest of the structure should be part of his mandate.

Irish Independent

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