A joke that isn't funny anymore
Published 09/02/2013 | 04:00
Imagine if, in secret, Giovanni Trapattoni happened to be a devout student of English literature, far more interested in Wilde and Dickens than in Hoolahan or Gibson?
If, five years into the job, all that crunching and mangling of words was just a gentle ruse to offset rigorous questioning? If he spoke better English than Stephen Fry, but kept Manuela by his side as a kind of human shield?
How much simpler life would be, if Trap made an announcement to that effect today? Press conferences could cease to be cryptic crosswords and journalists might lose the pained expressions of children given thousand-piece jigsaws to complete against penal deadlines.
To the best of our knowledge, though, Trap wouldn't know Dorian Gray from a decent Pinot Grigio and his need for an interpreter is, if anything, becoming more chronic by the day. His grasp of English is precisely what it seems, a silted, fumbling exercise that, even now, creates more confusion than it clears.
Depending on who you read or what you listened to this week, Trap was either penciling Wes Hoolahan and Darren Gibson down for Stockholm next month or ready to zap their numbers from his phone. The media was a blizzard of contradictions.
Now if those sitting yards from the great man last Thursday couldn't settle on a common interpretation of his words, what chance has the broader public?
Yesterday, Stephen Kelly was moved to issue a statement, attacking what he termed Trapattoni's "attempts to defame my loyalty." This related to an apparent insinuation that Kelly refused to be part of the Irish squad this week, unless guaranteed a start.
The Dubliner has always come across as one of the more thoughtful and intelligent of professional footballers, yet now seems on the brink of confining any future correspondence with the Irish manager to a solicitor's pen.
Communication problems have dogged Trapattoni from the outset of his reign and it seems quite staggering that they still persist today.
Ordinarily, beating Poland 2-0 in a February friendly should constitute a nice, tidy opening to the international season. But Trap being Trap, life just can't be that simple. He seems instinctively programmed to row against anything that might be perceived as a consensus line.
And, accordingly, any recipient of such populism.
Hence Hoolahan, perhaps the one truly imaginative footballer available to his Irish team, comes to represent some kind of needless irritant. Worse, scoring a sublime goal almost qualifies as a subversive act.
Trap wants us to understand that his knowledge of the game brooks little argument among educated football people. So, on reflex, he seems drawn to a contrarian view.
Someone like Hoolahan, thus, becomes a national conceit. A player who thinks football games can be won by playing between the lines as distinct from on them. Someone who prefers having the ball to chasing it. Likewise, Conor Sammon becomes a hulking Gulliver at 6ft 2ins, capable of wreaking terror, even in the land of Ibrahimovic.
Trap is clinging to the music of another era, a time when past achievement indemnified against future questioning.
And through it all, his lack of English just muddies the water more. People sift through his words, drawing conflicting conclusions (when they draw any at all). He shouts, he waves his arms, he rolls his eyes, like an over-acting panto villain.
And we sit there smiling, watching the digits on the voice recorders fly. Knowing, deep down, we might as well have taken out the batteries.