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The Price of Progess

GIOVANNI Trapattoni has always said that results justify tedium and an approach to football which is often agricultural and rarely entertaining.

He is right, of course and the response to the full time whistle and a Euro 2012 play-off place from 45,000 fans confirmed that.

But the price he will pay if Ireland do not qualify is obvious now. There is no hunger for another two years of this.

He is an extraordinarily fortunate man, both on and off the pitch. Beloved of the Vatican, he enjoys a lifestyle commensurate with his vast salary and his engagement with this job has been almost desultory.

Last night he was blessed by Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez, the Spanish referee who distinguished himself while refereeing the last game of his life by making a spectacular hames of a crunch decision.

Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky lived up to his name in the 26th minute and wandered out of his box with his arms stretched to the sky to block Simon Cox.

A sharp blast from Mr Gonzalez and moments later, his fluorescent red card confirmed Trapattoni's luck.

Gonzalez and his linesman missed the eyeblink moment when Cox handled but saw Berezovsky connect with the ball somewhere above the underside of his arm.

One sin was overlooked and another severely punished. It was the key to the game for Trapattoni and Ireland. Up to then, they were totally outplayed by a team who were swimming with the minnows up until very recently. Outplayed and outclassed.

Even after Berezovsky walked the worst walk in football, Armenia still operated on a level above the men in a green.

Late in the game, Irish fans erupted in a chorus of catcalls when a promising attacking position on the right side of Armenia's box was spurned and the ball worked all the way back to Shay Given.

It was a strange moment but very telling. A goal to the good and less than 10 minutes away from a Euro 2012 play-off, the fans made their feelings known about Trapattoni's eternally negative approach to the game and it was a jarring counterpoint to what was otherwise a successful night for the FAI.

If they needed to know at least one of the many and varied reasons why they can't fill the Aviva Stadium, there it was in plain view.


Of course, Trapattoni would point to games in the past when the players, responding to the crowd's urgency, threw caution to the wind , galloped into the attack and conceded late goals.

But there's a limit to the amount of relevance games played four or five years ago can have in the current circumstances and a limit to the amount of patience fans have for a style of football which would at times, curdle milk.

If the FAI pay attention to the message which poured from the stands at that moment, they will not rehire Trapattoni unless he earns the right to take the team to the Ukraine and Poland next summer.

Trapattoni's dogged and dogmatic insistence that his players follow a system built for drones is taking the good out of what has been achieved and there is an overriding sense that Ireland are in the play-offs on a wing and a prayer.

The final series of Euro 2012 qualifiers winnowed the chaff across Europe and reduced the play-off panel to eight. Even with a seeding, only Estonia look like a plum draw.

The rest -- Turkey, Montenegro and Bosnia Heregovnia -- all play a version of the football which Trapattoni's system has singularly failed to cope with.

Armenia's fantastic one-touch dismantling of Trapattoni's midfield was a close relative of Russia and Slovakia's approach in the Aviva and the only response from the manager has been to trust to his defenders and no doubt, a significant amount of prayer.

Against Armenia, he settled on Cox as a strike partner for Doyle not because he was more likely to score than Shane Long or Jonathon Walters, but because he was a better option to help out in midfield.

Cox was marginally in front of Richard Dunne for the Man of the Match reward and Trapattoni's must get the credit for the call he made, but only just.

Using Cox as an auxiliary midfielder didn't work and Armenia pinged the ball around with great ease for much of the first-half.

Early in the second-half, Keith Andrews got on the ball and suddenly Ireland were flowing, if not freely, then certainly more confidently.


Passes stuck and the team looked much more secure. The easy concession of possession which Trapattoni seems unconcerned by stopped dead and this was proof, of a sort, that these players can play.

But we knew that after Paris. A level was achieved that night which hasn't been matched in a sustained way since and Trapattoni is the reason for that -- not the players.

In just about every press conference he has given since he took the job, Trapattoni has been at pains to point out that Ireland does not have "fantasy footballers" and it would be interesting to know if his players agree.

It must be mildly insulting to hear this repeated time and time again by a manager who set about removing creativity from the team's make-up the moment he began his work.

The paradox for the players is the same as the one experienced by Jack Charlton's highly decorated squad. Never mind the quality, look at the results.

There is talk on the wind that a decision has already been made on Trapattoni's future and that only qualification will keep him in a job.

The grapevine is whispering Martin O'Neill's name should the play-offs prove a standard too high for Trapattoni's team.