Euro '88 similarities augur well -- up to a point
Trapattoni must hope to avoid the injuries that hampered Charlton, says Seán Ryan
THE similarities between the Republic of Ireland's qualification for Euro 2012 and that of Euro '88 are striking in so many ways that they beg the question: will the ultimate outcome be as fruitful for the FAI and the game in Ireland?
In 1988, we were in the middle of a recession; the fans weren't flocking to Lansdowne Road to support the boring style of play manager Jack Charlton had insisted on; the team qualified thanks to the intervention of a smaller country; and the FAI's finances, which had returned a deficit of IR£54,000 the previous year, were back in operating profit.
In addition, the Irish team which qualified in 1988 had a similar age profile to that of 2011, with a solid core of 30-pluses, who had suffered disappointment over a number of campaigns before making the breakthrough.
The big difference this time, of course, is that the present team had recourse to a play-off. In 1988, it was one team to get through from each group, and no second chances. Thanks to Gary Mackay's goal for Scotland in Bulgaria on November 10, 1987, that team was the Republic of Ireland.
This time, the Irish team can be grateful to little Estonia for seeing off the challenge of Serbia. Would we have scored four without reply in Belgrade? Hardly.
In 1988, most of the profits from the European Championships went to the players. There was a very small administration running the FAI at that time, with the late Dr Tony O'Neill taking more of the responsibility from secretary Peadar O'Driscoll, whom he later succeeded.
This time there is a comparatively huge administration to be paid, plus a massive debt on the Aviva Stadium, which has to be serviced.
Fortunately, the rewards for qualifying for Euro 2012 are much greater than those received in 1988. A figure of €8m has been mentioned, and that will be added to by increased sponsorship deals over the coming months. The one imponderable -- just as in 1988 -- is the reaction of the fans. In the 1988 campaign, only the Scottish and Belgium games were sell-outs. And even when the team qualified, the fans voted with their feet by turning their backs on the friendlies organised on the run-in to the Euro finals. The game against Poland on May 22 was the best supported and it attracted a mere 18,000.
The team's historic breakthrough hadn't convinced the fans that it was time to jump on the bandwagon. This only occurred during the following World Cup campaign after the team's heroics at the Euro '88 finals.
The unattractive football played in the qualifying campaign had a lot to do with that, and it is likely to be the same for Trapattoni's team, which will have friendlies in February and May before they travel to Poland and Ukraine.
Trapattoni has yet to sell out the Aviva, although Tuesday's play-off second leg will probably end that unwanted record. However, to entice fans to the spring friendlies and relieve the financial worries of the FAI, some new faces, playing a more attractive brand of football, might be needed.
Given, Dunne, Duff and Keane are the Moran, McCarthy, Stapleton and Brady of the breakthrough team. McGeady, Cox and Walters are the Galvin, Houghton and Aldridge.
The make-up is very similar, with one exception -- the increased presence of non-Dublin natives. In 1988, apart from Packie Bonner, there were no native Irish from outside the Pale on the team.
It is Jack Charlton's greatest legacy that interest in the game extended right through the country subsequently, so that the present squad has players from Donegal, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Sligo, Wexford and Tipperary all ready to take their place in next year's finals.
The one fear manager Trapattoni can have if the similarities between 1988 are to continue is the fear of injury. Charlton lost key players in Dave Langan, Jim Beglin, Mark Lawrenson, Liam Brady and David O'Leary to injury in the run-up to the Euro '88 finals. Frank Stapleton also had to endure back surgery before passing a late fitness test.
If the present squad were hit by injury to the same degree, it would be a very different team that would line out next year to the one that will celebrate after next Tuesday's game. In 1988, the replacements did their job, and the team went on to qualify for Italia '90.
If history repeats itself, the confidence which qualification brings could do the same for Trapattoni's squad, and he could get his wish to bring the Republic of Ireland to Brazil in 2014.
Sunday Indo Sport