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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Daniel McDonnell: End of Trapattoni won't cure the ills of Irish football

The majority of those who wanted Trap also chose Staunton – there's nothing to say it'll be third time lucky

The defeat against Sweden on Friday night almost certainly was the beginning of the end for Giovanni Trapattoni's reign
The defeat against Sweden on Friday night almost certainly was the beginning of the end for Giovanni Trapattoni's reign
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WE know what happens from here and, listening to Giovanni Trapattoni on Saturday, it's clear that he does as well. The end is nigh and, by now, the quibbles, like his tactics, are no longer original.

Plan A is brutal when it doesn't work and it was brutally exposed on a deeply dispiriting evening where the next generation laboured to defeat against a moderate Swedish side. The outcome delivered the casting vote in the argument over the manager's future. After three campaigns, it is time for a fresh approach.

Should it be followed up with a similar display in Vienna, the manager will be placed under an unsympathetic spotlight. It's nothing he hasn't encountered before. Over the weekend, he was asked if the likelihood of missing the World Cup in Brazil was the biggest disappointment of his career; he politely rebuffed the suggestion with the reminder that he had lost a European Cup final and dined at the top table for the majority of his football existence. In the greater scheme of things, the Irish experiment is a footnote to a wonderful career.

The 74-year-old has taken plenty of criticism – including on these pages – but more than anybody else, he is capable of putting it in perspective. Those of us who've been there all the way will always remember the dignified way in which he's handled it.

It would be undignified, however, if the story of this campaign was shaped to pinpoint the failings of one man when, in truth, the responsibility for Ireland's struggles goes much further. When the FAI's board of management sit down to consider his future, they must also contemplate their own performance.

They chose to retain the Italian for a third campaign, when the Euros suggested that it was time for change. Then, they opted to keep him last October – following a fluke in Kazakhstan and a humiliation at the hands of Germany – when there was a push for his removal from within the ranks. In hindsight, the decision taken at that crossroads can be viewed in two ways, neither of which reflect well on the association.

If it was solely a football decision to retain the Italian, then it was a gamble that backfired. If they couldn't justify it financially, then it all comes down to their decision to extend his contract pre-Poland. Either way, they haven't covered themselves in glory.

The dangerous optimism ahead of Friday was, in part, connected with the uplifting ticket sales. We were told that a sell-out was beckoning; it screamed a vote of confidence in this regime. And the reality? Sure, the Irish response was heartening. But the Swedish presence extended beyond the away section; large parts of the premium level were populated by yellow shirts.

As repetitive as it may be, we must never forget that the middle tier was supposed to be filled by 10-year ticket-holders who would effectively cover the FAI's stake in the renovated stadium.

A flawed pricing plan ensured it never came to pass, and the economy had plummeted before the FAI could react; the devastating consequence of poor performances on the pitch is that it has permanently reduced the long-term value of seats at the stadium.

Gone is the feeling of exclusivity. The discerning fan with a functioning brain knows that tickets will always be available. It is a relevant topic in this context because, ultimately, the FAI have to factor their bank debt into every major decision they make.

Are there any reasons to be cheerful?

Civil War

Well, in times of difficulty, we look to the next generation for encouragement. Regrettably, it is impossible to discuss the state of schoolboy football in Ireland right now without referring to the ongoing civil war over the controversial 'radius rule' that has led the FAI to call an emergency meeting for next week.

It is a typical Irish argument, a squabble over the ownership of individual players that exposes the extent to which important strands in the development of the game are working in isolation rather than together towards a collective goal. Clubs focus on self-preservation because it's how you survive within Irish football.

This is the bigger picture heading into a tense Tuesday. Trapattoni, with the highest pay and profile, will absorb the bulk of the stick when the Brazilian dream dies but the FAI hierarchy cannot distance themselves from the pointed fingers. And yet, when the dust settles, the reality is that the wise men who prolonged his reign, the majority of whom are survivors from the Steve Staunton experiment, will be in pole position to select the next guy.

It's a sobering thought.

Irish Independent

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