Trapattoni has long way to go to match Jack
Charlton’s still the face everyone remembers – football fan or not
Published 21/09/2010 | 05:00
TWO legends meet in a hotel lobby. "Jack!" shouts Giovanni Trapattoni, a delayed arrival, rushing to hug a familiar figure. They speak while camera bulbs flash around them.
A waitress at the Clarion Airport Hotel speaks to some of the assembled journalists. "Are you here for a Jack Charlton press conference?" she asks.
It's a telling observation. Trapattoni may have spent a good portion of the last two years being wheeled around the country for a variety of photo shoots but, in the absence of qualification for a major tournament, there's a strata of society to whom he is still quite unfamiliar.
Well, compared to Big Jack anyway. Even the non-football followers can pick him out in an instant. He is a staple of 'Reeling in the Years', a man whose place in Irish history is assured. An official Freeman of Dublin, an honorary citizen and much more besides.
Trap is a long way away from such affection in this little corner of Europe.
When the two 1930s children stand side by side, it is obvious that they have aged differently.
Charlton (75) is turned out casually, in town to promote a new savings deal with Airtricity. His day's work was supposed to solely take place at the Aviva Stadium, where he looked out on the renovated Lansdowne Road and casually spoke of his happy days at the old venue.
Alas, when Trapattoni's flight from Milan was held up for over an hour, the second part of proceedings was moved to the environs of the airport. The 71-year-old Irish boss, flying in for a press conference to name his latest squad, is dressed in a sharp suit and ready for business.
"When I met him after he got the job, I envied him a little," reflected Charlton, with reference to the buzz that comes with the role.
On Friday week, Trap will be in the dugout at the Aviva Stadium for a potentially pivotal Euro 2012 qualifier with Russia. Big Jack was invited, but instead will be sat on a boat on the River Tay. Couldn't be avoided.
"I bought a timeshare on the Tay about five years ago," he explains, "And every year I have to pay 2,200 quid to get on the river. I might be able to watch the match on the telly if it's in the evening. It's something I've got to do."
His pressing commitments are favourable relative to the majority of his contemporaries. Last week, his 1966 World Cup winning team-mate Nobby Stiles confirmed he would be auctioning off his medal to raise some funds for his family. Asked about the large number of his ex-colleagues who had gone down that route, Charlton wasn't exactly overly sympathetic.
"I don't think they had to sell them," he said. "It's because somebody else told them, they got £100,000 for theirs or somebody else got £110,000.
"I don't know how much Nobby will get but he is like me or anyone else our age. I am 75 now and don't know how long I will last. But I have gathered everything together and given it to the family so that the taxman will not get it, hopefully.
"My medal is still in the little cardboard box that it came in. I've never given anything away," he revealed.
With his €1.8m a year salary, Trapattoni has no pension worries to speak of. Yet, if he needed a reminder of Charlton's success, he can only look at how the Geordie's Indian summer with Ireland has contributed to the happiness of his retirement. Heck, with this new radio ad campaign, he's still reaping the rewards from his memorable, successful tenure.
He's been there and done it, and remains the only man to bring Ireland to a European Championships, a statistic which his Italian friend is currently trying to change.
Certainly, Charlton's notoriously erratic memory is even sketchier now. His knowledge of football current affairs is limited, and he gets mixed up in an attempt to respond to specific queries. Discussion of Thierry Henry's handball in Paris is merged with descriptions of England's controversial disallowed goal against Germany in Bloemfontein this summer.
And, when pressed for his current favourites within the Irish set-up, he openly concedes that he doesn't know much about them beyond Shay Given.
"Apart from Shay, I couldn't tell you one name of any player on the field," he says. "I just watch the games but the names never register with me. That's because I'm getting on a bit."
Press the rewind button, though, and the observations are clearer. He recalls his own big joust with a Russian side, at Euro '88, and a penalty that was never awarded for a challenge on Tony Galvin. The big decisions rarely go for Ireland, it is suggested.
That sentiment would resonate with Trapattoni. His interpreter, Manuela, is drafted in for his brief chat with Charlton. Mostly, they laugh.
Comparisons between the pair are frequent. A preference for a direct style of play is trumpeted as the obvious link. Regardless of the finer points of that debate, there's no doubting their single mindedness; an unshakeable loyalty to the system they feel works best.
Later, after naming what is effectively an unchanged Irish squad, Trapattoni is asked about Charlton. "I don't know, maybe we have a little bit of character the same," he says, shaking his fist to demonstrate aggression.
"I like him. I follow him. I was manager of Juventus at the time he was with Ireland. Maybe for character, I don't know, I am similar a little bit.
"He achieved the qualification, and his team played well. It was a great Irish team, his Irish team. The mentality was great.
"Since then, football has changed. Tactical changes. Our jobs are different now. Football changes. Time changes."
In the context of his recent health scare, it is put to Trapattoni if he retains the desire to continue in football until he is 75. Wouldn't he prefer a life of luxury?
"Never!" he declares. "Thank God, my problem was only little. After a week, I was ready. I think for me, my health is good, it's not a problem. I can run, so it's okay."
Other employment opportunities were available to him after the heartbreak at the hands of France last November. Indeed, he hints that there have been more recent overtures. Nothing to tempt him away from a half-completed job though.
"I think we have matured now," he argues. "I had possibilities before. At the start of the season, I could have changed, but I do not wish to change because I believe that this team deserves to qualify for a big tournament."
Until they do, Il Capo will have to find somewhere else to graze his sheep.