Tuesday 6 December 2016

Five things we have learned from the Euro 2012 campaign

Published 12/10/2011 | 05:00

Suffer little nations. Little, gullible Armenia come to town to butter up their Matt Talbot complex and we shamelessly peddle our erstwhile status as international victims of a handball conspiracy.

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We await the FAI's stirring campaign on behalf of the fleet-footed ones. The ninth team in the play-off, anyone? At the very least, a replay next Tuesday in Tolka.

Ireland's reliance on a whole lot of luck and a pointed refusal to admit design rumbles on into the purgatorial play-offs. A little bit of the football fan in all of us died when the plucky Armenians bade a tearful farewell.

Trapattoni has now dodged more bullets that 'Quick Draw McGraw'. The referee glances at a half-time monitor and insists that his decision was the right call. You make your own luck, Il Trap will insist. Knowing him, he'll rip up his lottery ticket and still claim the prize.

1 Irish boss still a system addict

Trapattoni will not waver when it comes to his system in qualification matches. The only hope remaining to alter that thought process is a success in the play-offs

Should Ireland win, the stubborn Italian may waver. Lose, and the handsomely rewarded manager will be escorted politely to Dublin Airport and bade arrivederci for the final time.

Asked on Monday evening whether the absence of Robbie Keane made him contemplate for a moment whether to play five midfielders, Trapattoni forcibly demurred.

Once again in Dublin, against a team willing merely to indulge in the exotic behaviour of simply passing the ball to a team-mate, Ireland's set-up inured them against any cohesive approach other than to sit back and hope for the best.

Trapattoni will protest that the result is all that matters -- that may be true in qualification campaigns containing only one potentially world-class team -- however, it will not be enough to haul Ireland into a major tournament.

Don't expect anything to change. A philosophy of ensuring that his team do not get beaten remains for him the primary aim; the exigencies of the play-off system, where two draws can ensure progress, may allow for such a hidebound approach. If his luck holds out.

2 Midfield morass a major flaw

Ireland's midfield remains incapable of establishing itself -- and one does not necessarily need to invoke the proverbial arguments about the system to expound this particular theory. Both players are bright Dubliners who are used to playing forward roles for their clubs. In the Irish jersey, they are straitjacketed not just by formation, but by the conservative attitude of their manager.

There is rarely any evidence that the two central players are encouraged to impose themselves on the pitch or get beyond the football. That has led to them being uncertain in possession and unwilling to abandon their defensive postings.

In turn, they have been scapegoated by armchair critics who refuse to address the fact that the duo are exposed mercilessly by Trapattoni's Spartan approach.

Trapattoni's risible offer that his captain Robbie Keane resembles a mirror image of Francesco Totti is a convenient cloak of deception to avoid addressing this fundamental flaw in how Ireland's midfield operate.

Trapattoni's brief flirtation with Paul Green -- remember him? -- who he once declared to be as equally preferable an option as Andrews or Whelan indicates just how divorced the manager is from the fallibility in central midfield.

3 Some strange decision-making

Trapattoni's facility for making unfathomable decision-making has been prevalent throughout this campaign, culminating in the almost fateful decision to haul off Man of the Match Simon Cox, instead of the yellow-carded Kevin Doyle last night.

Doyle was clearly agitated once he had been first disciplined, particularly after the Armenians pulled a goal back. Doyle's second yellow card arrived seconds after the bizarre substitution.

For Doyle, it has been a miserable end to a campaign in which he was treated abominably by the manager. Shane Long seems to be the latest player to arouse the wrath of the manager, having missed the Slovakia game.

The selection of the full-backs yesterday was flawed but Trapattoni emerged unscathed from such a flawed choice; he has erred before in terms of central defensive partnerships during the campaign.

In midfield, Trapattoni has consistently refused to look beyond a predictable line of four players in midfield; decent passers of the ball like Keith Fahey, Seamus Coleman, or incisive playmakers like James McCarthy.

Some of Trapattoni's interpersonal relationships with several key players leave a lot to be desired and he has even managed the remarkable feat of upsetting his normally supine captain by evoking confusion surrounding his release from LA Galaxy for this double-header.

4 Rebuilding the rapport with fans

The FAI's appallingly handled ticketing strategy has left them floundering for much of this campaign -- they left it too late to amend their disastrous pricing schedule, compounding the team's struggles against the leading challengers in their group.

FAI chief executive John Delaney has already conceded publicly that both the ticketing strategy and the team's sterile style of play under Giovanni Trapattoni have combined to ensure that the new Lansdowne Road has never been filled to capacity for a competitive occasion.

For a team who have now reached two successive play-offs for major tournaments, this is an abominable state of affairs and a direct reflection of a dereliction of marketing duty.

Worse, it is a signal rebuff to the football family to whom the FAI are supposedly interlinked -- the primary aim of the association should be to fill their home stadium, not to make it more difficult than it should be for their patrons to attend.

Even with reduced ticket prices, only 45,200 turned up last night and it must now be the association's policy to ensure that the stadium is filled to capacity next time around.

A team who are living on their luck may need all the help they can get beyond the white lines.

5 Caught in a Trap -- for the moment

The manager will be dearly hoping that his achievement -- such as it has been in two successive groups containing dubious quality -- in bringing Ireland to a second play-off will secure him a new contract.

Trapattoni has spent much of this campaign gleefully inviting speculation concerning his future and has done little to disabuse the notion that he remains, at 72, one of the most wanted managers in world football.

This is patently not the case, but the genial charm of the Italian has ensured that the headlines regularly remind us that peril will be invited upon us should Ireland ever allow Trapattoni to walk away from Irish football.

The turgid argument that he has brought organisation and cohesion to the Irish set-up is now a historical one; producing qualification, his over-riding target, must decide whether or not Trapattoni and Irish football remain wedded together in dubious harmony.

If Ireland fail to make it through the play-offs, Trapattoni's time will be up, though his role in re-establishing some order after the chaotic Steve Staunton reign will be recognised when the history of Irish football is written.However, the time will have come to allow someone else with a broader vision to guide this group of players, many of whom have shone in spite, not because of, their manager.

Irish Independent

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