David Kelly: Trap must adapt or walk away
Somebody suggested that Spain's shredding of Ireland had damaged a reputation Giovanni Trapattoni had spent more than half a century in compiling.
He was wrong. Spain were always going to win in Gdansk; Ireland just made it easier for them to do so.
What did take a battering, however, was Trapattoni's reputation as a renowned, defensively-minded master tactician of a country whose supposed ignorance of football demanded it bow to his every whim.
And his reputation as a manager capable of negotiating the choppy waters of major international tournaments has also taken a severe thumping in Euro 2012.
Like another stalwart of the European club scene, Fabio Capello, Trapattoni has palpably been unable to translate impeccable standards in the club scene to the highest level of competition.
That will sting the manager's pride. With the chance now to knock Italy out of the competition, Trapattoni will eye the route towards redemption.
One must cling to the hope that this passage follows the same footsteps of the Irish players' quest for their own sense of rehabilitation after the most bruising and demoralising month they have ever spent in each other's company.
Trapattoni will change to prepare for Italy, but, for us, the result is academic -- save for the needful expression of the wonderful Irish support whose unconditional faith has been sorely tested by the sloppy dross served up to them on the field.
Radical change is required with the next qualification campaign in mind and, indeed, for the likely prospect that qualification for future European Championships will become easier once the expanded 24-team event begins in four years' time.
But if the Italian is to remain worthy of trousering such an exorbitant handsome annual wedge -- so out of kilter in a country whose facilities are still third world in so many areas -- do supporters really want Ireland to stumble into another tournament, only to be ritually slaughtered?
If people are happy with that, then the spineless FAI will probably allow Trapattoni to persist with his bizarre methodology and his outdated system.
There is a constituency, not always capable of making themselves heard above the din of the delusional, who aspire to something a little more substantial than a raucous party and dinosaur tactics.
Four years of an austere regime, thankfully restoring the order absent from the FAI's disastrous choice of Steve Staunton, has brought Ireland back to a moderately competitive level in the international sphere.
However, now that his defensive surety has been utterly exposed as wafer-thin, Trapattoni's raison d'etre has suddenly been rendered redundant. So too, soon, will some of his senior players, with Shay Given set to be first to retire.
Can the old dog learn new tricks? Or does he want his career to burn itself down to a dim, sadly flickering flame before extinguishing with barely an interested witness present?
Trapattoni may have one last challenge left in his remarkably spirited being. He needs to demonstrate the willingness to unfurl its fullest expression.
Otherwise, what is the point of his continuing tenure? He is being analysed in terms of this job, not his career.
Trapattoni needs to adapt or abdicate.
Trapattoni's style of management has been a mostly sedentary lifestyle which has largely involved merely unwrapping DVDs that are sent weekly to his Milanese apartment.
His appearances on the training pitch have attracted appreciative swoons from the Irish public; despite health troubles, his fitness for the job remains unquestioned.
Concern has arisen over his reluctance to go on scouting missions to England, but this appears to have been overlooked in the giddy excitement that accompanied Ireland's stuttering return to the major championship sphere.
Does anyone in the FAI have the cojones to compel him, as they did previous managers, to render a more hands-on approach to do the job, particularly when the expense is so vast?
He needs to see players -- more of them -- in the flesh. The emergence of James McClean, for example, took him completely by surprise. It shouldn't have.
Days after expressing doubts about his readiness for the fray -- why bring him then? -- he pitched him into a lost cause against the rampant Spanish.
It makes no sense -- but then much of Trapattoni's dealing with players within or without the Irish squad ever have.
SUBSTANCE OVER STRUCTURE
Trapattoni clearly doesn't trust his players anymore. That lack of faith has been reciprocated in this championship.
On Thursday night, he spoke, without any measure of irony, about his puzzlement at the fear which had caused his players to yet again concede an early goal.
He did not hesitate for a moment to question whether that sense of fear emanated entirely from him.
When Ireland were eking out positive results, the system trumpeted the individual. The pied-piper manager absorbed all the credit.
However, as Ireland's defensive mask slipped during this campaign, the individual errors allowed the Italian management a convenient scapegoat.
When, blinded by the panic of the Croatian defeat, the manager uncharacteristically abandoned his system, the players palpably demonstrated that they had lost their trust in him.
Here, as he eloquently amplified in the past, Glenn Whelan's frustrated comments are entirely apposite.
"The manager wants us to play with two up top and whatever the manager wants us to do we have to do because he picks the team," he said.
"It's hard when you're playing two in there and they've got three, four and five, but it's got us here and it's the way the manager wants us to play."
The players and the manager need to unite on a different emphasis. Not necessarily a pointy-headed discussion on formation, but merely a desire to use the ball better rather than cling desperately to the recidivist last resort of defence as the be-all and end-all of Ireland's tactical approach.
If this breakdown in trust between manager and players is irrevocable; if he concentrates exclusively on what his players can't do, rather than what they can, there is little future for the manager and this team.
Against Italy, who play with three central midfielders, Trapattoni can wed his personal crusade against the nation of his birth with a renewal of this Irish side by deploying three real midfielders.
Younger players like Shane Long and McClean need to be given a chance now within a vibrant, positive style of play -- and others brought in for the friendly game this August against Serbia.
Monday in Poznan will mark the end for this Irish team. Yet, it could also spark a new beginning.
NEW PLAYERS, NEW BEGINNINGS
Ireland's veteran manager performed with predictable inhibitions mocking any giddy pretensions Irish supporters may have had of seeing a restrictive philosophy suddenly flourish against the world's best exponents.
Sadly, Ireland's veteran players also badly underperformed. The two events are not entirely unconnected.
Shay Given may soon become the first of Ireland's World Cup 2002 generation to call it quits. Mercifully, Richard Dunne has declared that he will stay on. One hopes his opinion remains unchanged.
Damien Duff could hardly flower without possession and when he did get limited ball, he was predominantly unproductive.
Robbie Keane, on Thursday night, was deployed in a position that didn't suit him or the team. Spain expected an aerial bombardment and were privately relieved not to get one.
If Ireland are to demand more of themselves in a positive fashion, Keane may yet have to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
Like his manager, past glories cannot indefinitely sustain him on his worst drought in over a decade.
Whether Keane has the desire to remain in a squad where he may not necessarily be a first choice, particularly now that he has abandoned a top-flight career, is highly debatable.
A slew of young -- and, because they have been ignored -- not so young players are available to charge some positive energy into this squad, despite the yawning gap that may be left by retiring players.
Their names -- James McCarthy, Wes Hoolahan, et al -- are familiar to us all. But the existing squad can also be harnessed to gradually shift their emphasis.
There is simply no other way. Mere order can only bring Ireland so far. If they are satisfied at biennially battering their way to the top table for an inevitable filleting, then so be it.
It shouldn't seem so repugnant a concept to demand something a tad more constructive, a positive attitude beginning with the manager off the field and ending with the players on it.
This has been a wonderful tournament to experience at close quarters. Thousands of Irish supporters turned up determined that courage could defy their obvious limitations.
It's a pity the Ireland squad didn't.
Ireland can still hope to punch above their weight. But, to quote the old Italian proverb: "If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."