Saturday 16 December 2017

5 Key issues Trap must address

Giovanni Trapattoni has plenty to ponder before finalising his team for the
European Championship qualifier against Macedonia on Saturday week.
Giovanni Trapattoni has plenty to ponder before finalising his team for the European Championship qualifier against Macedonia on Saturday week.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

During his first qualifying campaign as Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni had such a good run with injuries that he spent many of his squad announcements talking about Stephen Ireland and Andy Reid because there was little else to discuss.

Now, he has far more pressing issues with which to deal.

Ireland's latest attack on the national boss was swiftly brushed aside yesterday, with Trapattoni concentrating on a myriad of problems which are set to dominate the build-up to the crunch Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.

It is unchartered territory for the Italian in terms of his Irish assignment.

The one constant throughout his stint on these shores has been the availability of his blue-chip performers for matches of significance, with the exception of Damien Duff -- although it helps that the Dubliner specialises in a department where there is a range of options.

But it's all different now, with Shay Given injured after a miserable season at Manchester City, and question-marks surrounding the well-being of other influential performers in the spine of the team, both in terms of the immediate and long-term future.

Trapattoni, who turns 72 on Thursday, was at Abbotstown yesterday to address some of the issues. In a break from policy, he stated a desire to speak more in Italian in case any comments were misconstrued -- a statement of seriousness in itself.

1 RICHARD DUNNE

The Aston Villa defender is arguably Ireland's most important player, given the shortage of centre-halves in the squad and the dearth of leadership quality throughout the team.

He's already a doubt for the Macedonia encounter with an injured shoulder, but the bigger picture is that he is set for a discussion with club authorities later this week after a blazing argument with coaching staff at a bonding session.

Trapattoni has been in contact with the club, and appears confident enough that Dunne can shake off his current physical ailment to participate in the qualifying match. However, there has to be serious concerns about the player's general state of mind after his latest run-in with the Houllier regime in Birmingham.

After some turbulent times in his youth, Dunne was portrayed as a reformed character at Manchester City who had left his wilder days behind. Therefore, a very public apology about unruly behaviour when he is supposed to be recovering from injury has to be giving Trapattoni a headache.

Ireland need Dunne fit and well for the remainder of this campaign; if he's under par then he can become a liability, as his performances for Villa in the first half of this season clearly displayed.

2 ROBBIE KEANE

The good news is that the Irish skipper returned slightly ahead of schedule to play 22 minutes for his employers against Stoke on Sunday.

The bad news is that the only West Ham game between now and the international window is against Spurs, and Keane can't play under the terms of his loan arrangement.

As a consequence, he will arrive in Dublin next week with limited game time under his belt. Last October that was an issue, particularly in Slovakia, where his penalty miss is often cited, but the real concern was the Tallaght man's sluggishness around the area, with two other chances that he would normally have stuck away.

It helps that back-up options Shane Long, Leon Best and Jonathan Walters are in decent form, but taking the decision to leave the captain on the bench would be a huge call for the manager to make. He does appear to be thinking about it, though.

"He will definitely be here next week, and then we can evaluate the situation," said Trapattoni.

"We have to see him -- if he's ready, or not ready, and if he can play immediately or not. It's better when the team is fresh. When one is tired, that is a doubt. Okay, Doyle is Doyle. We have him. But we decide also about Robbie Keane, there is Long, Best, and also Walters."

3 GOALKEEPER CONUNDRUM

Keiren Westwood appears to be fit and well, yet Trapattoni has opted to enter this encounter with uncapped duo David Forde and Darren Randolph as cover.

They play for Millwall and Motherwell respectively and have enjoyed fine campaigns this term, but the absence of Paddy Kenny is a surprise, given his form for QPR.

It's not such an issue if Westwood arrives in fine fettle; the problem is that Coventry have hinted that his leg muscle problem could flare up if they're not careful, so the lack of seasoned cover on the bench is an issue, especially when the No 1 is preparing to make his competitive debut.

Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly, who was part of the back-room team under Steve Staunton when Kenny suffered a nightmare in Cyprus on his last Irish start, had an influential role in the decision.

"Alan told us, two or three months ago, we have other very good options. We haven't forgotten Paddy Kenny; we just thought it was the right time to introduce different options," explained Trapattoni.

4 JAMES McCARTHY

Thankfully, it now seems that we can move the debate about McCarthy on, concentrating on where he can be accommodated into Trapattoni's system now that groundless suggestions he was contemplating a switch back to Scotland have well and truly been put to bed.

The only lingering doubt is that Wigan's baffling behaviour with respect to this issue could prevent the 20-year-old from coming in for the Macedonia game, although Trap was confident this wouldn't be a problem after belatedly going to England to meet face-to-face with the Glasgow native.

Instead, he is now trying to figure out where to fit McCarthy into his XI. The most likely scenario is that he will come on as a sub against Macedonia if the result is beyond doubt, even if Trap has thrown down the gauntlet to the player by telling him to prove in training that he's worth a starting place.

Where, though?

"I know he can play in midfield. He can play in a situation where we have one striker. And he could also play right or left.

"Technically speaking, he's an eclectic player. We have to find a way, to put him in the team by facilitating, by supporting his strengths," he said.

"It's difficult in a competitive match. Against Uruguay (three days later), it's a friendly, it's different."

With concerns about senior stars, the Ireland boss is under pressure to find the right balance between youth and experience, a debate that also extends to Ciaran Clark and Seamus Coleman with respect to their prospects of involvement.

5 FINDING ROOM FOR CONVERTS

Trapattoni also needs to find the right balance in terms of drafting in newly eligible recruits into his plans.

Jermaine Pennant's declaration has apparently taken everyone by surprise, and Trapattoni admits they are still unclear if the Stoke man actually qualifies. He does have a slightly complicated family history.

Defenders Richard Stearman (Wolves) and Luke Chambers (Nottingham Forest) have been monitored, and Trapattoni suggested the wheels are in motion, with the relevant paperwork to be processed before they can be considered for this summer's planned training camp, which could well take place in the United States.

Meanwhile, Jamie O'Hara is closer to the Pennant category, in the sense that Trapattoni looks to be demanding further assurances about their commitment, with supporters queasy when players so publicly acknowledge they are viewing Ireland as an option after failing in their English ambitions.

"With O'Hara, when we have a clear desire, we can follow," he said.

"We don't know if Pennant has become Irish. I'm glad that there seems to be a lot of requests from different players who are expressing a wish to play for Ireland.

"It's important when they decide they wish to play for us... they must be stubborn, they must be determined, they must be proud. It's important."

Irish Independent

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