Trap at risk of being suffocated by own tactical straitjacket
Throughout much of Giovanni Trapattoni's reign as Ireland's exorbitantly rewarded manager, his team's relative successes have been predicated upon a simple premise.
Teams that played Ireland always allowed Trap's charges to show what they were effective at. Friday night was different as the shortcomings of Trapattoni's Ireland were ruthlessly exposed. The Russians whipped off the emperor's new clothes and left him shivering in the dark.
That Russian coach Dick Advocaat could come up with a winning plan was not particularly a shock to those of us who have consistently argued that Trapattoni's philosophy is fatally flawed when exposed to intense pressure.
No, what is shocking is how surprised Trapattoni was about how events transpired, even as he sought to ingenuously defend himself in the fall-out from such a dismal display (seeking solace in spurious offside claims and the like are delusional sideshows).
That the manager was somehow startled by being outnumbered in midfield should in itself serve as a chilling warning to those who maintain that Trapattoni's way is the only route to what is demanded of him by his paymasters -- qualification for the next major tournament.
A small child can relate to the simple mathematics that three is better than two, yet this was something that Trapattoni neglected to address. The manager constantly expressed surprise about the pesky Russians' seemingly veiled trick of springing three midfielders into the fray; one wonders whether Il Capo's famous collection of DVDs had been wiped by episodes of 'Fair City'.
And the manager's stirring response to the Russian ruse? Wait until, as his captain indicated, the "game was dead and buried".
To what purpose would Ireland deploy their belatedly arrived extra midfielder -- after five minutes of fannying about before Aiden McGeady and Shane Long discovered their new roles?
"It gave us that extra man in midfield and we had to go long-ball when 3-0 down," reported Keane.
A long-ball tactic was being replaced by a long-ball tactic. In 2010, this is what €1.8m will achieve. Nice work if you can get it. This should not be so.
"They had three players in the middle of the park and their formation was a headache for us to deal with," reported McGeady, one of the players offered no new information at half-time other than the glib prompt to "show some pride".
"The manager wanted Shane Long to come on and play on the left, but five minutes later he didn't so he changed us back over," McGeady added. "Then, when he changed to 4-3-3, he played me in behind Robbie Keane. Maybe it could have been done a bit sooner." Indeed.
Trapattoni's tactical impotence threatens to drag this team down with him. As we threatened to uncover after the infamous Paris play-off, and as so recently expounded in less than subtle terms by Richard Dunne, Ireland's de- facto captain, a real fissure in the squad could expose the cosy consensus that has been allowed to prevail.
The deficiencies of Trapattoni's rigid adherence to a system that indulges inferior players at the expense of better, exiled, performers can no longer be sustainable.
It is no longer an argument of the dreamy aesthete that supports the inclusion of an Andy Reid or a James McCarthy or a Kevin Foley or an Anthony Stokes or a Marc Wilson (it's a long list, folks).
That's because Friday's result roundly trumped Trapattoni's perpetual insistence that the result is more important than the show.
Sadly, the mere fact that Ireland are now preparing to play in an arena that suits them best, an away tie against technically superior but average opposition, will provide him with the necessary comfort blanket to inure him against the growing calls to abandon his tactical straitjacket.
With the tireless Kevin Doyle now absent, a straight swap of either Long or Andy Keogh will ensure that Trapattoni's faith in his system will remain incorrigibly allergic to any reasonable examination, apart from the imperceptibly rising voices of distraction coming from within the squad.
There remains a cadre of supporters for his system, but Friday's evidence comprehensively tainted those enthusiasts. Those who persevere in questioning Trap's methods are not whimsical day-dreamers without root in reality, especially now that they number some of the key men within his squad.
It is difficult to escape a conclusion that this Irish team is being inhibited as much as it is being encouraged. The cosy cartel that suggests Trapattoni achieves the optimum with a limited group of players has rarely been challenged.
Paris last November exposed that myth. Since then, most have succumbed to the cabaret that surrounds the manager and his endearing inability to speak coherent English.
Were an Irish-born manager responsible for what happened on Friday night, he would have been raced out of town post haste. Instead, there remains a worryingly blithe assumption that Trap's way is the only way.
Dissent is derided. But if Trapattoni continues to display such naivete as that witnessed on Friday, this state of affairs cannot and will not survive.
Another of Friday's inescapable ironies occurred when Dunne, whose primary job is to defend, was sent forward with a pre-historic agenda to act as an auxiliary attacker. It smacked not only of desperation, but of a very betrayal of Trapattoni's own philosophy.
If the manager himself has started to buckle within his own belief system, then how long can the players survive under it? Again, this is where Trapattoni's failure to broaden his options threatens to haunt him.
The maxims that underline the autocratic nature of Trapattoni -- no player decides what to do on the pitch; the players follow only what Trap has asked them to do, and so on -- have been discussed to exhaustion point.
If Ireland's players are rendered incapable of independent thoughts on the football field by an autocratic coach, whose urgings to defend 1-0 leads in the last campaign ultimately came back to haunt him, then Ireland are doomed to repeat the errors that mocked their qualification candidacy last time.
Kevin Kilbane glibly tells the Irish people that they should forget the performance in Paris. Why? Are they still afraid to acknowledge that the only time the players abandoned Trap's strictures they flourished as never before?
Trapattoni says he cannot change the way he operates because he doesn't have the requisite players at his disposal. That is patently false; there are a surfeit of players within and without the squad who could effect the type of change necessary to achieve the significant blow required in this campaign.
Trapattoni must now hope that he can retain the respect of his players. If that subsides, his beloved system will be utterly worthless.