Saturday 20 January 2018

David Kelly: Manager ends up a prisoner of his own beliefs

Giovanni Trapattoni remonstrates on the sidelines
Giovanni Trapattoni remonstrates on the sidelines
David Kelly

David Kelly

Vienna, a city famous for its opera, hosted a passing soap opera last night. The final words remain to be written, but this chapter of Irish football is now at an end. Austria entered the arena to the raucous strains of the Radetzky March. Ireland could have arrived accompanied by Chopin's funeral march.

Appropriately enough, given the circumstances within which they are now mired, the Irish team were attired in an all black strip.

Harbingers of the past and present lingered around Giovanni Trapattoni.

There was the venue – named after the coach Ernst Happel, who got his number when leading Hamburg to defeat of the Italian's Juventus team in the 1983 European Cup final.

And we were back in Austria. In nearby Salzburg, we recalled a first meeting with Trapattoni when the FAI tapped him up for one final fling in the big time.

Now it will end as most football marriages tend to, in messy divorce.

Zlatan Ibhrahimovic had dampened any lingering ardour among the small visiting contingent of supporters that this campaign was capable of being resuscitated.

David Alaba confirmed with a wave of his beautiful right foot that their dreams were already dead.


Ireland played as if liberated by fear. It has been one of the great paradoxes of a Trapattoni era for which obituaries have already been routinely compiled, that of Ireland flourishing away from home.

Up to last night, they had been unbeaten in competitive matches away from home, yet their home record under Trapattoni is even worse than that of Steve Staunton.

If there was mediocrity on show last evening, much of it was displayed by Austria, reiterating the view that, Germany aside, Group C houses a listless cast.

Ireland astonished witnesses with their daring possession game in the opening throes; for some minutes, Paul Green outplayed his more illustrious opponent Alaba, until the latter began pulling the strings from a variety of roving details.

Once Alaba got a foothold, he became the game's central character, from right wing to left side and everywhere in between.

Austria's urgency for a positive result was more pressing, yet there were strangely hesitant for large swathes of the piece. Ireland, for whom hesitancy is a default setting, were simply not possessed of enough guile to force one save from the home goalkeeper in the opening 45 minutes.

Robbie Keane has scored 60 international goals.

The 23 players in the Austria squad accounted for only 57 between them, yet Ireland could not create a chance for their leader.

As ever, Ireland looked their most vulnerable when they had the ball, while the home side were efficient on the counter-attack – Alaba and Martin Harnik stinging Forde's palms with raking drives.

Ireland, we had been reminded most sternly by its captain, eschew any attempt to introduce a Plan B or "any of that crap."

Instead, we had to be content with more of the usual 'crap.'

It all hinted at the naked tiredness of this Irish set-up.

This is what happens when a group ceases to be willing to undertake the fatigue that's involved when there's even the slightest suggestion of a difference of opinion.

Diversity has always been denied this Irish team under Trapattoni.

And so it has always been that for Irish fans, it is not so much that the regular visits of despair have been so traumatic, it is the hope that is impossible to endure.

Despair is a much more common currency as Ireland head to Cologne now and, if their spirits were not depleted enough, they will now be further diminished by the absence of their first-choice central defensive pairing.

It remains to see if Trapattoni will also be denied the opportunity to return to a country where he enjoyed so much success in the past.

If he does so, it will once more be a reminder that, regardless of his wonderful career, he has ignored the wisdom of his own glittering experiences and instead ended up becoming imprisoned by his beliefs.

The wounding of his character continued apace yesterday.

The squad would have been a tad amused, like the rest of us, to wake up to Shay Given's insistence that the manager should be cut loose and, more intriguingly, his observation about the manager's "communication problems."

Trapattoni's crimes against the English language have run parallel with any perceived crimes against the beautiful game from the first day he pitched up in the RDS more than five years ago.

That Given would choose the relative comfort of talk radio to deliver a self-righteous parting shot is a pity.

It would have been much more effective had the Donegal man, one of the more eloquent and intelligent international footballers of recent years, chosen to constructively address these problems when he was inside the tent. Given was hardly reflecting the purported communication problems when he reneged on his retirement to issue a plaintive plea to Trapattoni in what he described as a "lengthy conversation."

During the course of this chat, Given indicated that, having decide to concentrate on his club career instead of Ireland duty, Paul Lambert's decision to ditch him had forced an urgent rethink.

It was quite clear only a few months ago, then, that Given was not of the opinion that the manager should be chased out of town.

One hopes that, just as the manager ignored Given's desperate

u-turn on that occasion, his intervention during a week that was already fraught enough to begin with, will be ignored.

Given owes Irish football nothing, but unzipping his fly from outside the comfort of the tent sullies his legacy somewhat.

It was schoolboy stuff, a bit like much of the second half here as two middling teams desperately jostled for the elusive deliverance of a winning goal.

But then again, inarticulacy has framed much of this regime, both on and off the field.

Now, it seems, there is simply nothing more for anybody to say.

Life support had been switched off.

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