Monday 20 November 2017

Dion Fanning: Trapattoni is not for turning

Trapattoni is sticking by his trusted creed and remains bullish on our Rio prospects

Wes Hoolahan is the latest to demonstrate what Ireland were missing during the years he was ignored. If Ireland are to beat Sweden then Hoolahan will need to be involved.’
Wes Hoolahan is the latest to demonstrate what Ireland were missing during the years he was ignored. If Ireland are to beat Sweden then Hoolahan will need to be involved.’

Dion Fanning

Giovanni Trapattoni explained why he was still here and then left the building. In October, it was hard to see him making it to Halloween but at the Aviva on a Friday night in June he was still explaining his position, still up on the balls of his feet to drive home a point, still possessed of an extraordinary energy that makes time spent in his presence far more uplifting than time spent watching his teams play football.

Trapattoni is still around and Ireland are still thinking about qualifying for the World Cup. Both these things had seemed improbable last October but Trapattoni and Ireland work on those kind of margins.

In qualification for the European Championships, Ireland shrugged off a humiliating home defeat to make the play-offs. Trapattoni is still insisting that Ireland can do that again. On Friday night, he said Ireland have a greater than 50 per cent chance of making the play-offs.

The games in September – at home to Sweden on the Friday and away to Austria the following Tuesday – will be decisive but Trapattoni wanted to stress that there were four, not two games remaining. Ireland can still qualify if they don't beat Sweden in Dublin, but you could make the case that they don't deserve to. A home win and a point in Vienna could be the most straightforward route to the play-offs but Ireland don't do straightforward and, under Trap, they don't do transformative home wins.

"Yes, we must beat them," Trapattoni said on Friday night before again pointing out that there were four games – not one – which would decide his future.

In October, it seemed his future had been decided. The elements of Trap's greatness may be hard to glimpse in his football teams these days but Ireland do possess his most important asset: the ability to survive.

Survival is what Trapattoni does. During those dark October days, he stressed that all that mattered was his ability to work with the team. There may be legitimate questions about that but it is Trapattoni's line.

"If I wasn't 100 per cent convinced that the players weren't behind us we would have gone," he said on Friday night. "I had a feeling in the dressing room. If I speak with the players and they not believe me or do what I asked of them then it is better to say 'thank you, bye bye'. I've had 30 years of dealing with dressing rooms, in Germany, in Austria, in Portugal, in Italy with Milan and Inter. You understand if you speak and the players are not listening, you understand immediately."

Ireland are still unlikely to qualify (they are 1/5 not to make it) for the World Cup despite Trapattoni's optimism. The practical reasons for hope centre around players – with the exception of Robbie Keane – he has marginalised in the past. That would be less important if he didn't give the sense that he doesn't trust them in the present.

Wes Hoolahan is the latest to demonstrate what Ireland were missing during the years he was ignored. If Ireland are to beat Sweden then Hoolahan will need to be involved. In fact, if he had been involved for longer in Stockholm, Ireland might have won that night.

Trapattoni will start from a position that he can't risk having too many players like Hoolahan and James McCarthy in his team, even though Glenn Whelan gave another performance on Friday which suggested he is reaching the end of the line.

Hoolahan's industry impressed Trapattoni as much as his vision and skill. "I said before the game that international football is also about being strong physically but after the two games Hoolahan was physically very good."

Few will be surprised that Trapattoni looks at a quick-witted player and grades him on his strength. If Ireland show an ability to cling on, they have, under Trapattoni, reduced football to a base level which means that there is never a show, not even against the Faroe Islands.

Ireland will probably be exposed in the autumn. Richard Dunne, who pulled out of the trip to New York yesterday to discuss his club future, is needed and the problems in the side now seem to be in the areas that were supposed to be Trapattoni's strength – organisation and compactness – rather than his weaknesses.

Creative players are available to him but in September, he will take no chances. Only McCarthy, who was behind Paul Green in his thoughts three months ago, is likely to be chosen He is more likely to persist with Simon Cox, the latest player to embody an apparent Trap creed that if a player can't do anything, he's unlikely to do anything wrong.

Hoolahan and McCarthy can make a difference but Trapattoni takes too long to forget about their weaknesses. He continues to state it didn't matter but the insistence by the FAI that he attended more games has been to the benefit of the Ireland team.

He knew Hoolahan, he says, and he ignored him because Ireland had a team with four strong forwards – Keane, Kevin Doyle, Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady – but Hoolahan, along with McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Shane Long, offer hope for September and beyond.

Without Keane and Hoolahan, Friday night's game might have been more uncomfortable but Keane does what he does so well – the greatest Irish player he had ever seen, Trapattoni said – and so did Hoolahan.

Ireland's most-capped player will always remember Friday night, which is something not a lot of people can say. His career has been extraordinary even if some legitimately wonder if goals, even 59 of them, continue to compensate for his failure to contribute much in general play.

Nobody can question his effectiveness or his position as Ireland's greatest ever forward. Keane will be loved in his absence but it is revealing that he was always cherished in the Ireland dressing room when he was criticised outside it.

Dunne, who has been with him all the way, reflected on Keane's achievements. "He must be the greatest Irish player ever. He deserves that accolade now for all that he's done. The pair of us have come a long way from kids in Tallaght dreaming of playing for Ireland. Now he holds all the records, he and his family must be so proud."

Keane and the rest of the Ireland squad arrived in New York yesterday and if the captain made another symbolic strike on Tuesday night, nobody would be surprised.

Robbie Keane is sticking around and so is Trapattoni. They are both remarkable men but in September Ireland must hope that their strengths, not their weaknesses, define the campaign.

Irish Independent

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