Monday 25 September 2017

Vendetta is an Italian word

Trapattoni has behaved disgracefully. Photo: sportsfile
Trapattoni has behaved disgracefully. Photo: sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Giovanni Trapattoni is making a mess of the Irish manager's job. And if he doesn't get his act together pronto, the FAI should give him the boot. If you disagree with this admittedly brutal summation, it's worth looking again at the case of Andy Reid.

We've become so used to Reid's omission from the Irish international squad that there's a tendency to treat it as a fait accompli. Last week's papers made reference to Ireland's lack of midfield options, 'in the absence of Stephen Ireland and Andy Reid'. And on Friday it was mentioned that there was possibly 'good news for Trap' because Steven Reid had said he might perhaps play for this country again if we were really stuck and asked him nicely.

The persistent coupling of the names of Stephen Ireland and Andy Reid might give you the impression that the cases of both players are similar. Yet they couldn't be more different. Stephen Ireland doesn't want to play for his country, Andy Reid does. There's nothing Trapattoni can do about the Aston Villa man. But there is no excuse for overlooking the Sunderland man again and again until every squad announcement heaps further humiliation on a player who never let his country down.

And what is the sin which has justified the manager's appalling behaviour towards Reid? Apparently, some hotel bar disagreement between the two men. Reid did not have a brush with the law, he did not break a curfew, he did not fail to turn up for a game, he simply fell out with Trapattoni. And because of that the manager has allowed personal pique to interfere with the best interests of the Irish team. It's not good enough.

Trapattoni's determination to exclude Reid has seen him go to lengths which would be comical were the stakes involved not so high for an Association which could be courting financial disaster should Ireland put in another underwhelming qualifying campaign. First we had QPR journeyman Martin Rowlands starting in the centre of midfield for Ireland against Montenegro. And then we had the bizarre promotion of Paul Green, a player who bears the same relation to Reid as a flagon of cider does to a bottle of Champagne.

Utterly meaningless summer internationals against Paraguay and Algeria were used by Trapattoni as vehicles to introduce the hapless Green whose competent performances in these glorified kickabouts were declared to be proof that we had discovered the answer to our midfield problems. Green had played most of his career in the lower divisions with Doncaster Rovers before moving to Derby County, a poor Championship team, two years ago. Yet he was hailed as something like the second coming of Roy Keane by his manager who did not just bring him into the squad but gave him a starting role in the centre of midfield.

The results of this hare-brained decision have been painfully predictable. Green has looked like the footballing equivalent of Maurice Flitcroft, the crane driver who in 1976 conned his way into the British Open and shot 121 for 18 holes. He was woefully out of his depth against Russia last Saturday and against Slovakia on Tuesday before an injury mercifully cut short his ordeal. Andy Reid, a player of proven Premier League quality, meanwhile, sat at home, not judged good enough for the squad let alone the team.

This is lunacy. There have been attempts to justify the blackguarding of Reid by suggesting that there is no place for him in the 'system' employed by Trapattoni or that he would not be able to adjust to the 'style of football' played by Ireland. But, really, this is just a refusal to recognise that Trapattoni has behaved disgracefully. Andy Reid, on the other hand, has been a model of dignity. He remains available for selection, he has kept his counsel and will no doubt continue to do so even when Trapattoni finds further inferior players with which to pad out his panel.

Talk of Ireland's 'system' rings very hollow after the performance against Russia when, as Ronnie Whelan incredulously pointed out, we played two holding midfielders and they didn't actually hold anything. Green and Glenn Whelan might be devoid of flair, the argument went before the game, but their work rate and defensive ability would compensate for that. Instead, Russian midfielders poured through on to the Irish back four without let or hindrance. The players picked for their destructive capabilities hardly made a tackle. We might as well have played a couple of ball players in the centre of the pitch. At least they'd have given us something.

By the final 20 minutes of the game against Russia, we were reduced to humping long deliveries into the box at every opportunity. It was like nothing so much as the moment when a junior Gaelic football team realises the game is lost so they might as well move the full-back up front and leather high balls into him on the off chance that something might happen. It was anti-football.

Our best chances came from set-pieces. It was the same in Slovakia. But if that is to be the limit of our ambitions, surely it's another reason to bring back Andy Reid who is by far the superior of any player in the current squad when it comes to delivering the dead ball. It won't happen of course. Trap is too busy reminding everyone that vendetta is an Italian word.

Andy Reid might be the most obvious victim of the manager's ignorance and obstinacy, but he's not the only one. While Paul Green was judged worthy of a starting place in our World Cup qualifier teams, James McCarthy was left out of the panel altogether. McCarthy has played regular Premier League football for Wigan Athletic, and played it well for the most part, though like any young player he can be inconsistent. Yet he is infinitely superior to a number of players in the current squad. His offence was to cry off the panel for those meaningless matches against Paraguay and Algeria. Once more the right to take the hump with players is sacrosanct for Trapattoni.

The excuse that Ireland 'just don't have the players' would be more convincing if the manager made the best use of the limited resources we do have. While Trapattoni appears willing to make overtures to the petulant Stephen Ireland, his snubbing of Rory Delap is incomprehensible. Glenn Whelan has been in and out of the Stoke City team, Delap has been an ever-present. There is a great deal more to Delap than his long throws. But the long throws alone would be a significant weapon in the armoury of a team devoted to aerial warfare, the equivalent of several extra corners a game. Delap wants to play for Ireland yet he too is ignored.

Stephen Ward of Wolves, injured at the moment, was left out of the squad when he would have been a better bet than the increasingly ludicrous Kevin Kilbane at left-back. Marc Wilson moved up from Portsmouth to Stoke in the same deal that took Ireland first-teamer Liam Lawrence in the other direction. No place for him either.

The placing of the immensely promising Darron Gibson behind first Keith Andrews and then Paul Green in the pecking order has affected the Manchester United man's confidence to such an extent that he looks much diminished in the Irish shirt these days. Yet this is a player who fought in court for the right to play for the Republic of Ireland. Lee Carsley might be 36 but he'd still do a better job than Paul Green.

It's time Giovanni Trapattoni started taking his job seriously before Irish soccer is once more run into the ground by managerial incompetence.

He can start by picking up the phone and talking to Andy Reid. If he can't even do that it's time for him to say Arrivederci Aviva.

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