Focused Trap is ready for battle

Italian appears to revel in heightened stress of key qualifier week for Ireland

Eamon Carr

SADLY, despite enthusiasm, my grasp of conversational Italian is embarrassingly atrocious. For example, I've been known to say, "La palla e nell'albero" (the ball is in the tree) when attempting to say, "Devo scrivere un conto della tattiche football di Giovanni."

But writing an account of the football tactics employed by the Ireland coach can be harder than extricating a ball from thick foliage.

The man from Cusano Milanino can be as inscrutable as a one-man secret society (societa segreta).

This is understandable. There are few jobs that require you to follow a day's work by sitting and explaining your decisions to a panel of football experts and the professionally inquisitive.


I hear Alex Ferguson warmly welcomes reporters into his office and pours them a glass of wine as he pours out his heart.

Oh well, perhaps not. But at least Trapattoni attempts to shed some light on his philosophy of football.

It's just that, how do I put this delicately, he sometimes acts as if his conversational English is as fluent as my Italian. So what's Darron Gibson's injury worry, Giovanni? “It's in his finger,” says the boss pointing at his foot.

Ah, right, got'cha. That would be toe then. The Italian word, dito, can mean either toe or finger. And Kevin Foley?

“He had a good game against South America... er... no, South Africa.”

And so on we go. In a way it's a bit like the time I ordered a fish dish (il pesce) and received a peach (la pesca).

Mind you, I wasn't earning around €1.8m for attempting to steer the national football team to Euro qualification. Much has changed since a 69-year-old Trapattoni arrived to great fanfare in the spring of 2008. It was a different era. Bertie Ahern was still holding out in his Taoiseach's bunker.

And the economic catastrophe orchestrated by his Fianna Fáil good squad with its light touch regulation and brown envelope ideology had yet to ravage the land like a plague.

Back then, Trapattoni was a beacon of hope. He rallied a woebegone squad, put a shape on our footballing rabble and began to put points on the board.

When you can't please some of the people some of the time, that's when you know the game is up. But Trapattoni's World Cup qualifying campaign was textbook stuff. The Italian earned his corn. The glass-half-full brigade swooned as he took on Italy in Croke Park and was denied a win by his players' naivety.

When qualification was denied by Thierry The Cheat, Trapattoni was elevated to a podium beside Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Collins.

The naysayers, of whom there were many, shook their heads in despair insisting that we'd played the worst Italian team in living memory and that the French side was a shambles intent on torching their camp from the inside. When all he needed was qualification to have him installed in folk memory alongside Jack Charlton, Trapattoni set sail in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

With seven points from two wins and a draw to show for four games, and Ireland slipping in the FIFA rankings, it's true to say Trap's team's endeavours haven't fired the public imagination. Since our last qualifying match, a one-all draw away to Slovakia, Trapattoni's been in the wars.

In January he denied he'd suffered a stroke, saying he'd undergone pre-arranged surgery to clean a carotid artery. Having endured a health scare the previous August, when abdominal pains forced a spell in hospital, Trapattoni wellbeing was becoming a concern.

The good news is that he appears fit and healthy again, despite his voice sounding slightly frail at times. The mischievous spark is still in the eyes. And despite what his critics might say, Trap reckons the job is getting easier.

“Now we know many players better,” he told me yesterday after a training session with the squad.

“We know their quality. In the beginning we needed to go to Portugal for 10 days to have a look at them. Now we look at the squad and we discover other new players.”


Of course the pundits will have their own ideas of team selection. Critics will claim Trap, a defensive midfielder as a player, is ultra conservative in his team selection, his tactics and in his ability to make telling interventions from the dug-out during games.

But, at 72, he's been in the game long enough to know that it's points that are most important. “It's not art sometimes,” he admitted.

“If you want that (art), go look at Picasso.” Debate the talent of different players for certain positions ahead of Saturday's qualifying match and he'll circle the wagons, as he did for me yesterday.

“For qualification we need to be sure with this position with the experienced player,” he said.

“It's easier in the sense that I have more choice. Now I know better. It is better to have too much choice than not to have any choice.”

So, here we are again in another make-or-break week for Trapattoni. Watching the combative septuagenarian dealing with his players and the media yesterday, I suspect he wouldn't have it any other way.