independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

I don't care who he is, Trapattoni got it wrong – Lawrence

14 August 2013; Giovanni Trapattoni, Republic of Ireland manager. International Friendly, Wales v Republic of Ireland, Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Giovanni Trapattoni

Liam Lawrence has strongly criticised Giovanni Trapattoni for hastily ending his international career.

Whereas most Irish players are locked to a default setting where any mention of Trapattoni's name must be accompanied by a reference to his decorative CV, Lawrence, whose brief Irish career reached its conclusion in June 2011, refused to doff his cap.

Instead, the bitterness of his fall-out with the Italian became clear as he offered a different spin to the incident which led to Russia's first goal in their 3-2 Euro 2012 qualifier win in Dublin, and which effectively led to the end of his time as an Irish international.

"I don't care who he is or how good a manager he is, the point he was making was ridiculous," said Lawrence in reference to Trapattoni's criticism of him for failing to block Andrei Arshavin's free-kick.

"There was me and another fella in the wall when they were taking a free. I jumped – and the ball sneaked through the wall. It then went to the back post, should have been cleared, on at least two occasions, before (Alexander Kerzkakov) scored. And he blamed me. At the time, I just let him have his say."

But yesterday, after three silent years, Lawrence hit back. "I never wanted to disrespect the Irish public or the Irish coaches at a time when we were fighting to qualify. I didn't want to put a cloud over the squad. Keeping my mouth shut was the best option."

While his mouth was closed, however, his mind was open to the idea of furthering his career abroad, after Portsmouth's financial meltdown resulted in an offer from PAOK, the Greek club whose regular dates in the Europa League tempted the 32-year-old to pack his bags and head south.

Eighteen months later he is back – this time at Barnsley – where life is altogether quieter and less threatening.

"Where do you start?" he asks before listing the incidents which discoloured his time in the Greek Superleague.

"Any time we'd lose a game, there was all this talk of referees being influenced. That was bad enough but as soon as we'd get to the players' carpark, we'd be praying no one had damaged our cars because fans would be waiting outside the stadium wrecking the place. I was one of the lucky ones. My motor never took a hit."

Yet Rapid Vienna's fans did when they visited the coastal city. "It was a Europa League game and our fans invaded the pitch to try and get into the Vienna end. There were literally thousands of ultras jumping the barriers and throwing bottles, metal bars and chairs. That was my first experience of that. I've seen quite a lot in my time but I'd never seen anything like that. I thought 'Jesus, here we go'."

"Things were so lax at times. We'd be pelted with stones regularly. There were occasions when fans were waiting outside the ground to fill us in. The police would stand to one side and allow the vandals do what they want.

"Away games were worse again. We were coming back from a game in Athens on one occasion – and all of a sudden were diverted by police up to a remote mountain village because they had been tipped off that a number of Olympiacos fans had shut a motorway off, waiting to ambush our bus.

"So we parked in at this petrol station, where the police ordered our bus driver to switch the lights off and told the owner of the petrol station to do the same. Two and a half hours we waited there, until the Olympiacos fans got bored and cleared off home.

"We had four policemen protecting us. Four! Had the fans spotted us, we were in trouble. But the police were not that bothered.

"Anywhere else in the world, those things would be condemned because they are not football, but in Greece, Turkey, they get away with it. FIFA and UEFA just don't seem to give a toss. Anything could have happened to us.

"The football was a decent standard. You have Panathanaikos, ourselves, Olympiacos and a couple of other half-decent teams. But some of the sides near the bottom have s**tholes for stadiums. Really bad. Shocking."

Missing his family, who had stayed in England, the call from his agent to tell him a transfer home was on the cards was welcome. The club was Barnsley, propping up the Championship. Heaven.

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