How confident can you be that a 71-year-old with two health scares can do the job?
Published 06/01/2011 | 05:00
THIS is a big year for Irish football, and the FAI could have done without it kicking off by having to deny reports that their manager had suffered a stroke.
Yet they were engaged in that activity yesterday, as another health scare surrounding Giovanni Trapattoni planted considerable seeds of doubt with respect to the 12 months that lie ahead.
The Italian may consistently defy his age on the training ground, with his boundless enthusiasm a feature of his first two years in charge.
However, no matter how many references are made to Trapattoni's zest for life, it is difficult to put a positive spin on a situation whereby a 71-year-old manager has undergone surgery twice in the space of six months.
A lot rests on the well-being of the FAI's most expensive employee.
"It was just felt that the artery in the neck had narrowed a bit more than previously," said the FAI's medical director Dr Alan Byrne, after speaking to the doctor in Italy, who explained the reasons for performing the carotid artery surgery.
The operation is often associated with preventing the chance of a stroke occurring, which perhaps explains the confusion with respect to what took place on December 29.
Byrne reiterated that Trapattoni had "absolutely" not suffered a stroke, and added that he will be reviewed by the surgeon this Friday, with the possibility of a further meeting the week after, ahead of a planned trip to Dublin to name the squad for the Carling Nations Cup match with Wales.
As of now, that announcement is pencilled in for Monday, January 24. "I can assure you the boss is fit and well," stressed Byrne.
Nevertheless, insiders in the Irish camp did express some concern about Trapattoni's well-being in the week of the defeat to Norway in November. They felt that he wasn't quite himself, lacking the usual sparkle that has been the norm during his stints on Irish soil.
He must draw on all his energies to deliver in the coming months, with the FAI craving the financial boost that qualification for the Euro 2012 finals would deliver.
Trapattoni has received strong criticism for the scarcity of his scouting trips to the UK to watch prospective players in action. The January trip was set to be followed by a weekend taking in a few games; now, the itinerary will be subject to doctors orders.
Before his recent travails, the affable gaffer had joked about his wife encouraging him to settle for the quiet life rather than taking on another challenge. It was all delivered jocularly, with Marco Tardelli chipping in that his boss would never stop. You can be sure that the Trapattoni family will take a stronger stand in terms of priorities with a view to the future. Understandably, so.
There was some confusion in FAI circles as events developed yesterday.
Many staff were unaware of the news until the reports in the Italian press reached Irish soil at lunchtime. A statement from Trapattoni was promptly released early in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, FAI denials are now greeted with a considerable dose of scepticism.
It doesn't help that, back in August, Trapattoni was happy to blame his nausea and vomiting on a dodgy plate of mussels he consumed back in Italy.
Then, the difficulty turned out to be a bigger deal than food poisoning. He ended up being admitted to Mater Hospital -- with the quick thinking of Byrne important to the process -- and eventually had scar tissue removed from the stomach.
As a consequence, he missed the Aviva Stadium opening match with Argentina and, what was initially flagged as a 24-hour visit, developed into a stay in excess of a week. It shattered the illusion that he was invincible. Instead, he is merely a human, like the rest of us.
Naturally, pride is a factor. A person's health is a sensitive issue, and there's a convincing school of thought which believes that it should always be a private matter. Alas, the rules change when someone is in the public eye, especially when the individual in question is paid in the region of €1.7m a year by a national sporting association that draws funds from all strands of the game.
In discussions with acquaintances afterwards who enquired about his health, Trapattoni steadfastly stuck with the opinion that the fish was to blame, rather than explaining that the tissue problem arose from previous surgery.
With a view to his own plans beyond the end of his Irish experiment, Trapattoni cannot afford the label of a health risk.
The relative success of his World Cup qualifying campaign -- even if it ended with failure caked in moral victory -- put one of the game's greatest ever managers back on the map.
He was derided as a has-been in Italy when his mini-tour of Europe took him to the comparatively unfashionable Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
Bringing Ireland to the brink, and frustrating the Azzurri along the way, suddenly made him employable again in his native land. He was flagged as a temporary solution at Inter Milan and Juventus, and also turned down the opportunity to manage a couple of African World Cup qualifiers.
Even if the attempts to make it to Poland and Ukraine come up short, it's likely that Trapattoni has regained the profile to land a gig in his homeland, something that would keep the wife happy. So he's hardly going to admit any form of weakness that might prevent him from fully carrying out his Irish duties in the remainder of the campaign.
The schedule is reasonably crowded once the February 8 meeting with Wales is out of the way. With two games in March, a minimum of three pencilled in for the summer, and then a hectic autumn as the Euro 2012 race draws to a close, it is imperative that the man in the hot seat is in flying form.
No longer can that be taken for granted.