Monday 19 March 2018

David Kelly: Loyalty to Trapattoni's frayed and flawed system leaves Ireland running to a standstill

So many drawn-out finales occur when you just can't think anymore; when the fatigue is such that change is no longer possible.

Ireland's international soccer team is seemingly immersed in this sense of stasis – no going backwards, no going forwards. Stuck in the middle.

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has been at pains over the last 48 hours to represent the landscape of his team's status as unchanging. It is a familiar default position.

Pressed as to whether he should resign, he has demurred by insisting that, to the contrary, there is no reason to, as nothing has changed.

In bald statistical terms, this is true. Indeed, as he argues so stridently, the qualification table for World Cup 2014 did not alter substantially following Ireland's latest Dublin capitulation on Tuesday.

But here he is damned by his own feeble defence. For, if nothing continues to change, and all the available evidence currently points stubbornly in no other direction, Ireland will remain marooned in the same fourth position in qualification as they do this morning.

Had Ireland defeated Austria, they would have assumed second place behind runaway leaders Germany. As it is, they finish this week as they started it, in fourth, level on points with both the Swedes and the Austrians.

They have played a game more than the Swedes – who have a three-point gimme against the Faroe Islands to come – and it seems more likely than not that Ireland will need to defeat both their play-off rivals next September.

Yet, having failed to do so in March, what evidence exists to suggest that they can advance on these two draws in six months' time?

Ireland have flattered to deceive, such that wild-eyed optimists will persist that they could have won in Stockholm and in Dublin. But they could have lost both games too.

Instead, they eked out the favourite result of this manager – the draw – leaving them stubbornly stuck in purgatory. And that will not suffice for the Italian's often complicated love affair with a country to whom his devotion and fidelity has always seemed to be more artificial than authentic.

There is no change. Nothing seems to change. Or, if it does, the manager is too slow to realise the opportunity and embrace the change.


Trapattoni pointed out that, for large tracts against Austria, his team confirmed the renewed mentality they had demonstrated four days earlier in Stockholm.

The difficulty is that the players simply buckled in concert with the manager's inability to amend his own mentality.

Sure, there have been seeming concessions to change since the embarrassing carpeting he received from his formerly craven, sheepish FAI bosses following Euro 2012. But change is beginning to appear as illusory a concept as an Irish spring.

Despite his expressions of interest in a more eloquent style of play, husbanded by a variety of footballers he bafflingly ignored for the guts of a couple of seasons, Trapattoni remains wedded to his own conservatism. How can Ireland hope to possibly change if he himself cannot?

As much as he may claim to have laid down a platform for his players to develop a new mentality, he withdrew that encouragement by his steadfast, stubborn commitment to maintaining the system above all else.

On Tuesday night, it was noticeable that it wasn't just the fact that Ireland incipiently dropped deeper when trying to maintain their lead following an initial post half-time flurry which inevitably led to their late collapse. More damningly, Ireland were wounded by Trapattoni's adhesiveness to a flawed and failed system that fatally undermined them; by trying to maintain his shape with obviously tired players, hampered by the mistake of withdrawing a striker who wasn't fatigued.

The changes that he did proscribe were utterly cosmetic, at best, and totally counter-productive, at worst.

As much as the tired bodies on the field combined to allow Austria to launch a late mugging, the tired minds on the sideline were also culpable.

Changing personnel is only one aspect of the manager's duty; changing the system to accommodate the circumstances of a game is just as important a requirement.

As much as he would have assumed credit for the first-half performance and scoreline, he also must take responsibility for the second-half performance and scoreline.

International football should not fear Ireland's national team as much as the coach would like us to believe.

Ireland have the players to compete more than adequately in an arena now sadly relegated in importance and credibility behind the all-consuming club game.

Instead, it is the hidebound mentality and the wilfully negative attitude that has handicapped this Irish team, not the available materials.

But then, Irish football supporters have become used to being hectored and lectured as to the quaint notions that they are purported to mistakenly harbour.

After all, we are not Germany, says Trapattoni or, bafflingly, England, whose struggles against Montenegro hardly uphold the Italian's argument.

Trapattoni clearly believes that we should not have the temerity to challenge that particularly single-minded, myopic, long-held belief.

If he can't change his mind, why should Irish football supporters trust themselves to change theirs?

More than ever it seems, we are all running to stand still. No change there then.

Irish Independent

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