Monday 18 December 2017

Euro 2012: No nerves and no anxiety -- Trap is ready

Ireland's boss is passionate and animated, but he's always in control, says Dion Fanning

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni

Dion Fanning

On Thursday morning, Giovanni Trapattoni gathered his players around him on the pitch in Borgo a Buggiano, Montecatini. It was his first time with all his squad since the game against a local representative XI the previous Tuesday.

But he couldn't say then the things he said to them on Thursday. On Tuesday night, there had been 24 players; on Thursday morning, there were 23.

He told his final 23 what they had achieved so far and why he did what he had to do.

"He was talking about decisions you have to make in football," John O'Shea recalled later. "Obviously there are some tough decisions you have to make. He told us how he does it not for the benefit of himself or the benefit of me, or the benefit of Robbie Keane, or the benefit of Shay Given, or the benefit of James McClean. He does it for the benefit of Ireland. Everyone here is doing their best for Ireland."

It was, O'Shea said, "an important message to get across".

No member of the Irish squad doubted Trapattoni's ruthlessness but some had foolishly believed his comforting words that he would be loyal to the players who had got Ireland to the championships. Last week, he demonstrated that other values matter more in football. Then on Thursday, he looked around the squad and told them they have achieved something to get to this point but the challenges were still to come.

"He's told us to keep it going," O'Shea said, "and congratulated everyone," he pauses -- "not for getting this far, it's not fucking X-Factor. He thanked us for everything we achieved so far."

* * * * *

Last Monday night, Giovanni Trapattoni returned to the Grand Hotel & La Pace from the civic reception at the Terme Tettuccio which had been held in honour of the Irish football team. The reception was to welcome the squad but when Trapattoni makes a public appearance in Italy, he is always the centre of attention.

As the speeches were made, Trapattoni stood behind his players. For the entire night, he stayed on his feet.

The Irish players sat patiently through the formalities but as soon as they were allowed to leave, Robbie Keane signalled to the squad that they could go and they quickly headed to the coach which had driven them the couple of hundred yards to the function.

Trap stayed for another hour, talking to everyone who wanted his time, posing for pictures, demonstrating again that he is a man of astonishing energy.

In his speech, he talked, as he often does, about how Ireland reminds him of Cusano Milanino, the town outside Milan where he grew up, and he restated his fondness for Montecatini, reminding the crowd he had first visited the spa town with Milan in 1958.

"I'm getting very sensitive these days," he said, but when it came to it, just over 12 hours later, he would demonstrate why as a manager he can be sensitive but not sentimental.

Trapattoni walked home that night down Viale Giuseppe Verdi to the team hotel; he wasn't tired. The reception had energised him. Some said later he had to be forced to go to bed. His mind was full of the night, but with Trap there is always a remarkable self-possession. Last week, he was said to have lost his temper under repeated questions about Kevin Foley, but with Trap there is always a performance, he is always in control.

"I've never seen him have a blow-out," said one member of the FAI party. Trapattoni, no matter what it looks like, is always managing his emotions.

He knew what he had to do on Monday night and he knew the player he would be hurting. On Thursday morning, he gathered the players at the training ground and reminded them why he made these decisions. They were big ones in their world. One of a million in his career. He never needed to reassure himself.

If you were to create the template for the loyal footballer it would be Kevin Foley. Technically, he is an excellent player and would have played more times for Ireland under another manager. He made eight appearances in six years for Ireland but he turned up every time, unheralded and unused. "A beautiful, beautiful kid," is how one member of the Irish staff describes him.

But loyalty means something else in football, it tends to mean the opposite of its ordinary meaning. Loyalty in football is the suspension of disbelief, the pretence that this will last forever. Trapattoni said he would be loyal to the players who achieved qualification. The players made the mistake of believing him.

Trapattoni's mistake was not to get rid of Kevin Foley last week, it was to lead him to believe he was in the squad in the first place. "Better it was one than nine," Trapattoni said last week when it's clear that for Foley it would have been better to have been one of nine competing for five places and then miss out. Foley believed he was part of the squad for the understandable reason that he had been named in it.

That was Trap's mistake but he was right not to make another one last week. He needed Paul McShane, and if the squad needed to glimpse his ruthlessness, that was a price worth paying.

Foley's devastation at the news led him to talk of a betrayal and for some to suggest that the squad was split over his removal. Some players expressed sympathy for the player while others were more sanguine about Trapattoni's decision but nobody questioned it publicly.

If there was dissatisfaction last week, it came from those within the squad who may have believed every public utterance of Trapattoni's about fealty and devotion to the players who have been involved in his squads since the beginning.

Some were upset, Trapattoni said, but that was all. There was not a mutiny. Foley was a popular figure but it is not to dismiss him or how he was treated to say Ireland's plans under Trapattoni will barely be affected by his departure.

"They are not discontent. They are sad to see a team-mate go but they understand that it is like that," Trapattoni said. He knows that football is always like that.

Foley left Italy on Wednesday morning, confused and upset by what had happened. One member of the party said what had happened between the player and the manager had been "lost in translation".

The player thought he had proved his fitness but it was nothing to do with fitness. The 23 who were remaining had a day off, something that was necessary as what was described as "cabin fever" broke out in the Grand Hotel.

It is a favourite spot of Trap's, an hotel of sophisticated elegance which lacks the distractions the players might demand. The golf simulators and games rooms are waiting for them in Sopot. In that atmosphere, little things quickly become big things and in the intense atmosphere, the decision over Foley seemed to be a crisis.

The whereabouts of Marc Wilson may become news again this week. Trapattoni seems only barely acquainted with his standby list. In Dublin 10 days ago, he suggested Damien Delaney could be called into the squad; this time it was Wilson who leapfrogged over those named on the list.

McShane was on it and has been a happy member of the squad. As he talked to the media on Tuesday night, the surliest member of the squad pounded on the window of the coach demanding that he finish up.

To the outside world, to the Italians, a squabble over McShane and Foley only underlines Ireland's ordinariness. For them, Trap works miracles. Some think he is happy for his job with Ireland to be perceived as the most remarkable of the lot.

Italian journalists headed to Montecatini last week to hear him speak, primarily on the scandal enveloping Italian football but occasionally they would bring up Ireland as well. One reporter asked him if he talked to the Irish team in Irish and Trap patiently explained that he didn't. The Irish, he told them, were tough.

If they are, they are being shaped in the image of a manager who will spend this week working on the little details. He has, Trap told Irish journalists on Friday, done what he was asked to do when he was appointed. "I have repaid this faith placed in me by the man who called me. They thought about me. They dream about me," he said.

Barring injuries, the team he names in Budapest tonight for tomorrow night's friendly with Hungary will start against Croatia next Sunday in Poznan. Aiden McGeady will play ahead of James McClean but the Sunderland player is the greatest threat to the old order.

The rise of McClean was the first sign that Trapattoni's words would not always correspond with his actions.

Trapattoni doesn't project self-doubt. He is not the avuncular figure he often seems, but he is not the raging maniac, banging tables, that his most famous YouTube clip suggested either. The Irish public understand him only through his impenetrable utterances but his unknowability extends to the squad who discovered last week the true extent of how little they know him. Trapattoni feels no need to change.

He takes the squad to Poland this week, determined to demonstrate that he has a future. Last week, he stated he was at the peak of his powers. "I now know much more about situations. I have improved from 10 years ago and also when I had fantastic players like Platini and Boniek."

Sometimes you get close to the truth with Trapattoni, but not often. His feelings about the Irish players are often concealed, but on Friday he stated that his achievements are all the better because he no longer has players like Platini.

"Now, I have improved so much without these biggest players. We show we can win with the other players. You can sell newspapers with other reporters, without the best reporters. We have improved, improved, improved. I know better every situation and I'm lucky because I continue to discover the new situations. I'm still hungry for the future."

Yesterday Ireland prepared for the future. They will leave Montecatini today. Yesterday morning, the

players posed on the steps of the town hall while a local brass band played Amhrán na bhFiann.

Last night in Montecatini, Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli were entered into the Walk of Fame, when bronze plaques with their names were placed on Viale Giuseppe Verdi, alongside Henry Kissinger, Robert De Niro and others who had visited the town.

It ended what Trapattoni called a "beautiful week". At Ireland's final training session yesterday, he gathered the players around him and they posed for a private picture.

This was the 23 he decided he wanted last week. Kevin Foley, like Kevin Kilbane before him, was discarded when Trapattoni decided they could not serve his purposes. If anybody doubted him, they know the truth now. If anybody doubted, it wasn't Giovanni Trapattoni.

This week, his sister will send him holy water. It won't bring luck, he says, but it will protect against bad things happening which is the kind of luck Ireland need.

There are no nerves, there is no anxiety, they are for others. Anxiety is for his players. "Sometimes I am animated," he said. "But I give the team trust and I make them calm. Everywhere I have gone, I have won. I am never nervous."

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