Trapattoni laying down the law
Manager warns players to show ‘responsibility’ and not ‘sneakiness’ over drinking ahead of crucial Euro qualifiers
A curious start to a seismic seven days. Apropos of nothing, Giovanni Trapattoni walked into the press room in Malahide and revealed that he had delivered a strong message to his players about the perils of drinking.
He gave the sermon before the friendly with Croatia earlier this month but chose his opening address ahead of the crunch games with Slovakia and Russia to let the wider public know about the purpose of the mission.
Trapattoni insinuated that, in the recent past, players had broken curfews or engaged in clandestine drinking. He doesn't believe all the stories he has heard, but obviously felt there was enough substance in the tales to organise a meeting to clarify his stance.
There is no booze ban in place. Instead, he is preaching a message of responsible drinking.
The timing is fascinating. After laying down the law and getting his way with respect to issues of communication and reporting for duty with injuries, perhaps the 72-year-old is turning his attentions towards another endemic problem.
Yet this is a week where the results will determine the manager's future. To bring the discourse towards the behaviour of the players was an interesting start and it all came from the top table rather than questions from the floor.
"The last time, before Croatia, I reminded the players how important it is to grow our personality and professionalism -- because of two or three situations when the players were drinking or were in the pub," he said.
"I don't believe this. I asked them not to repeat this situation. For example, I don't know if it's true but, before Italy and after the Macedonia match... I think the players are conscious about this situation."
"It is important for us, for me, and all the Irish people because we have to show them that we are a professional team with a good mentality."
That was the starting point. Sure enough, in June there were headlines surrounding a reported incident in the team hotel following the Carling Nations Cup win over Scotland -- a full week before the night that Trapattoni seemed to be referring to.
Perhaps the dates got mixed up in his mind. Later on, he returned to the same point.
"I read the newspapers and I asked the players if it was true or not," he continued. "Up until that I point I had trust in my players but when I read about this once, twice or three times I said, 'uh oh be careful,' because never in Italy or Germany have I had this situation.
"I told the players 'ask me and I can allow you out and at 11 o'clock you can come back'. We can look each other in the eye and speak openly. We don't need any sneakiness.
"They don't need to hide and go behind anyone's back. We have a great responsibility for these players. If they are on the street and a car hits them, what happens? They are kids, they don't think about the eventualities."
Of course, drinking sessions have always been a part of Irish team gatherings. The tales from Jack Charlton's days have formed the centrepiece of many an after-dinner speech for the heroes of that era.
It became more of a taboo in latter years, when foreign influences in the English game had the temerity to point out that a night on the lash does not serve as ideal preparation for elite athletic performance.
Trapattoni, somewhat bizarrely, spoke about the chances of a player being knocked over by a car. Ironically, it was Phil Babb and Mark Kennedy's decision to jump on a car outside a Harcourt Street nightclub back in 2000 that made the social nights a taboo issue.
Since then, there have been notable flashpoints, effectively related to timing. A night out before the crucial World Cup qualifier with France in 2005 was one; the breaking of a curfew and sing-song that was a part of Andy Reid's breakdown with Trapattoni was another.
It is important to stress that Trapattoni has no problem with his players unwinding after a game with a few drinks, or on a given date at an acceptable period well in advance of another fixture. His issue is with the binge culture and the respect that comes with a manager giving permission to go out.
When he says stop, he anticipates that the players will do so. He wants everything to be over by 11pm; a slight problem when, in the Irish culture, that's the point in the night when the nightclubs are generally warming up.
"They understand that they must inform us and ask us about what they can do," Trapattoni said. "We can clarify what's okay or what isn't. Okay, sometimes you can go. It's important. We are not enemies.
"For me, for you, for the Irish people, they must grow their responsibilities."
Trapattoni says that when the players convened at Gannon Park yesterday to stretch their legs, he called them together to praise them for their attitude.
Indeed, in the wake of the furore over no-shows back in the summer, numerous players have come out to state that the incident has made the existing group stronger.
Privately, they are also saying the same thing. There is a bond and unity of purpose with regard to the campaign-defining challenges that lie ahead.
In reality, they could probably do without the means by which it is sometimes created becoming a matter of debate again, but the manager has evidently decided that it's a topic worth talking about.
A strong message at the start of the week which could well define his tenure.