Oops, now it's Signor Tripattoni
WHETHER her client was falling off his chair or stumbling over an English phrase, interpreter Manuela Spinelli was right there to steer Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni on to firmer ground.
Ms Spinelli, with her easy smile and sharp brain, is there to keep a limit on any 'Lost in Translation' moments that sometimes threaten to tip the Irish boss's answers to the press into surrealism.
But yesterday, after he took a unscheduled tumble off an office chair with roller wheels, the Italian aide proved she is as alert of body as of mind -- though not quite as quick-footed as team captain Robbie Keane, who was first in line to get his manager upright after what was potentially an embarrassing situation in front of the Irish media.
And, after the fall, if there were any cynical whispers about the wisdom of using wheeled chairs on a polished laminate floor for a press conference, Ms Spinelli demonstrated at least one good reason.
Depending on whether she was translating a journalist's question to Mr Trapattoni, helping him answer back, whispering an entire conversation between a journalist and Keane into the manager's ear, or translating questions by Montenegrin media for the the linguistically-challenged Irish, Ms Spinelli liked to move forward and back, and side-to-side, on her chair. It was all effortless. Something of a multi-tasker, this polyglot.
"Good evening, there was already an injury, huh?" smiled the manager, effortlessly brushing off his misfortune before launching into a three-minute monologue on his match thoughts.
The thing about Mr Trapattoni's press conferences in English -- for those with a working knowledge of football at any rate -- is that you almost always understand what he is trying to get across in his answers.
He generally gets you about 70pc of the way there and you make a leap for the final 30pc, heartened by the fact that he is obviously trying so hard and improving quickly.
Like the man she is helping, Ms Spinelli has a quick sense of humour and knows the value of an entertaining, if somewhat confusing, answer.
Mr Trapattoni was asked yesterday about his decision to remove mushrooms from the players' diets. He replied along the lines that he had changed players' diets wherever he had managed.
"In German, the first time the salad with yoghurt and drink orange was normal," he said. "I said maybe mushrooms [could be a problem for the Irish players]," he continued pointing to Robbie Keane's stomach, "when tomorrow he is 'ooh, aah' [in pain]."
Ms Spinelli -- at this stage joining most members of the press holding their sides with laughter -- managed to remain composed enough to tell Mr Trapattoni, in Italian, that Keane had just been asked by a journalist if mushrooms were, in fact, a gastronomic problem for him. She also filled him in on Keane's answer -- "Maybe magic mushrooms."
Her client nearly fell off his chair again, this time with laughter.
Perhaps if Ms Spinelli, who studied languages in UCD and Trinity, had been hired when Steve Staunton was around things might have worked out a little differently for the notoriously-monosyllabic Louthman.
The pretty Italian, who is in her early 30s, is already a star, whether she likes it or not.
"She doesn't want to do interviews herself with the press," an FAI spokesman said. "She doesn't want to become a celebrity interpreter. She just wants to do her job and leave it at that."
We're big fans of hers nonetheless. But fans of another hue were in short supply yesterday.
The 1,300 or so Irish the FAI expects in sweltering Podgorica for tonight's game were sticking to the cooler coast until the last moment. Any plastic Paddies here have melted. Otherwise there weren't too many complaints about the location.
"It's like being in a Carlsberg ad -- the women here are sensational," said Danny Lehane (28) from Cork and fresh -- if that's the correct word -- off a 10-hour train journey from Belgrade. His travelling companions nodded in agreement.
Mr Trapattoni also has a sensational woman in Podgorica. The difference is she'll talk to him.