Was it Trap's fault his players couldn't keep hold of the ball for the final minutes?
Published 30/03/2013 | 05:00
Tuesday night's events in Lansdowne Road left me deflated. The result felt so unfair. Whatever the sport, naturally we all want Irish teams to be successful, but for some reason affiliation to this Irish team runs deeper. I can't fully explain why. There's an honesty about the players and they give everything when wearing the green shirt. So I long to see them have their day in the sun as I sense they would realise its value.
I had great sympathy for the fans who made their way to Dublin 4 on a freezing night to support the players. If medals were being awarded for the best fans in the world, Irish supporters would be on every podium. In recent years their lot has been one of frustration; momentary highs made forgettable by deeper, darker lows.
Yet they come, hopeful, optimistic and enthusiastic in their willingness to try and make a contribution. They deserve better luck than their team had on Tuesday night. To watch their side drop two points in the final minute of added time was cruel.
What of Giovanni Trapattoni? In an instant his task of qualifying Ireland for Brazil in 2014 became considerably more difficult. And the door marked 'exit' is within touching distance. His critics now hover a little lower to their prey, their mutterings increasingly loud. I hope I am wrong, but this appears to be a scenario draped with inevitability.
International football is a business dictated by results, Trapattoni knows this all too well. He lives every day of his professional life by this stark reality. Since becoming Irish manager in May 2008 his commitment to the job has regularly been called into question. His apparent unwillingness to travel to watch Premier League games was cited as an obvious issue.
After watching Trapattoni's television interview following Tuesday's game, I doubt anyone can question his integrity or his commitment to the role. The range of emotions displayed by the Italian screamed of a man who cares deeply about his responsibilities.
From an Irish perspective I felt the game contained far more positives than negatives. In the opening stages, Ireland looked uneasy and the Austrians showed they could definitely play, especially across their midfield. The concession of a soft goal was disappointing and that sinking feeling began to take hold. Nights in Poznan and Gdansk have left scars.
To their credit, this Irish team displayed great unity and belief and went in for the half-time team talk with a 2-1 advantage. Nobody can question their spirit and willingness to commit to the cause or their belief in the manager.
Trapattoni is a long way along the road in the Irish job and this is a problem. The margin for error has become smaller with every outpost. It is regrettable, because for large parts of Tuesday night, Ireland showed real potential. Considering the starting line-up against Austria had nine changes from the outfit beaten in Ireland's final game of Euro 2012, to remain so competitive with a practically new and inexperienced team is a considerable feat, regardless of what has gone before.
Surely Trapattoni's guile and experience is a vital component? A change of approach was demanded following the disastrous eight days in Poland. The manager's loyalty to players who helped Ireland qualify for the competition was admirable, but for this loyalty, he has paid a high price. Reputational damage is probably irreversible. Euro 2012 left no room for mistakes.
Those who believe Ireland should be playing in a more attractive style than that fostered under Trapattoni may well be right. If such a style was adopted only to compromise Ireland's competitiveness would it be a success? Would fans be happy? And such a trade-off is a real possibility, for while we saw glimpses of the creative players such as James McCarthy, Shane Long and James McClean against Austria, Ireland's reality is that such players are in the minority.
Trapattoni's knowledge and experience has made him one of the world's most successful managers. He has prospered in the most competitive environments. In applying the very same know-how to the Irish job, his track record is there for all to see. Ireland fell foul of poor refereeing in a play-off for qualification to World Cup 2010; he led the team to Euro 2012 and they remain in contention for World Cup 2014.
I don't believe Trapattoni is adopting a certain style of play to increase the anguish of lovers of the beautiful game. I suspect, after making an appraisal of the Irish players, he is following instincts and habits of a lifetime to ensure Ireland can be as competitive as possible.
Are people foolish to dismiss his opinions as they aspire to something that is easy to speak about, but very difficult to attain? Is it easier for people to demand an alternative method of play rather than criticise players who are honest in their approach, but simply not technically competent?
Listening to some of the recent comments, commentators would have you believe Ireland's heritage is comparable with Brazil for producing creative teams. The reality is Ireland's current players have huge limitations. The majority are based in England playing for teams in the bottom half of a league that struggles to compete with leagues in Europe.
The Irish team were guilty of sitting back and trying to defend a lead for the final 20 minutes. Trapattoni's mindset was supposedly the reason. I don't believe that one single factor can be isolated and blamed for what happened.
Teams from all over the world frequently fall into the same trap. Look at Real Madrid in Old Trafford after they scored the second goal in the recent Champions League tie. I think it is as much a player's mindset as the manager's. Every game takes on a life of its own; both teams will have spells of dominance depending on changes in momentum.
Was it Trapattoni's fault his players couldn't keep hold of the ball for the final minutes and ensure the clock was run down? And is the manager to blame for a schoolboy error such as Ciaran Clark's when conceding the opening goal to Austria? In international football terms, Clark's mistake was a present to the visitors, as the defender tried to play his way out of trouble in the style many of Trapattoni's critics continuously promote.
Should analysis of Ireland choose to focus on the manager and his shortcomings, Ireland will struggle to progress in any tournament, irrespective of who is in charge.
Lest we forget, Trapattoni's trophy cabinet has been well decorated for many years, while Ireland didn't qualify for its first major tournament until 1988.
It may be easier for fans and commentaries to criticise the outsider among us, but are we simply choosing to ignore the facts?
Ireland have a core group of young players with ability. Trapattoni's critics have called for the FAI to relieve him of his duties and replace the Italian with someone who supposedly encourages a more progressive style of play. These voices see things in the Irish players that our Italian manager, despite all his achievements in the game, has not yet recognised.
But be careful what you wish for, as it might just come to pass.