Euro 2012: Players' limitations shown up but so were manager's
Trapattoni's unyielding adherence to 4-4-2 has been exposed as a blunder, writes Richard Sadlier
It won't be the winner-takes-all clash with Italy we had hoped for. And even more predictable than Ireland's exit at this stage of the tournament, the focus is back on the failings of the coach.
The FAI chose to extend Giovanni Trapattoni's contract after qualification for the European Championships was achieved and they cannot be criticised for that. The build-up would have been dominated by the issue if they hadn't, and preparations would have been chaotic as a result.
Nearly everyone was in support of it at the time. I questioned the wisdom of extending the deal because I couldn't decide whether qualification was achieved as a result of the manager, or in spite of his methods. But the FAI had no choice and the deal was deserved. We're not yet at the stage where we can be fussy about how we qualify for major tournaments. Any man who gets us there must be seen as a success, but there aren't many who see him in those terms today.
The need for change is now grasped by the majority, but Trap is not the man who can deliver it. His 'one size fits all' tactical approach no longer has its place. There are situations and games when 4-4-2 is ideal, but he recognises no scenario where it's not. Countless examples of its limitations were ignored and many opportunities to experiment in friendlies were overlooked.
So adamant was he that two strikers are needed on the pitch at all times, he selected Simon Cox to play against Spain despite knowing he would spend the majority of the game in midfield. And because not one minute of any friendly was used to give the players the chance to defend and attack in a system which had three men in the middle of midfield and only one up front, the entire performance on Thursday looked disjointed. After the game Cox was asked what his instructions were, and he answered, 'you'd have to ask Trap'.
There are no set of instructions that could have bridged the gap between Ireland and Spain but the changes Trap made in both games were incoherent and flawed. His decision to replace Aidan McGeady with Simon Cox on the left side of midfield against Croatia was baffling. Even worse were his instructions to Cox as he went on. Losing 3-1 at the time, he was told protect Stephen Ward at left-back.
For the Spanish game, Robbie Keane did not have the attributes to play as a lone striker any more than Cox had to play in central midfield. These are not the 'little things' that Trap often mentions, these are the bleeding obvious things. In the space of just a week, Irish football has gone from a state of giddy euphoria to the depressing reality of what lies ahead with Trap in charge.
Tomorrow's game with Italy puts us in 'playing for pride' territory, but there is more at stake than just that. A defeat by three or more goals would send Ireland home with the worst record of any country in the history of the Euros. Damage limitation is all that's left, but it's going to be more of the same.
UEFA rules do not allow Trap much room to manoeuvre in his team selection, because a coach must field his strongest team at all times throughout a competition. In any case, the situation in Italian football hardly provides the ideal backdrop for an Italian manager to field a weakened team against an Italy side in need of a result.
There will be one friendly before the World Cup qualifiers begin and we'll be back to seeing the same players being shafted in the same way by the garbled
instructions of an outdated system from a coach whose failings are now to the fore. Retirement by senior players may allow for the introduction of new faces but it's hard to imagine it will happen.
Marco Tardelli said on Tuesday that players are assessed, not on how they perform for their clubs, but how they would fit into their system. So if there are ball-playing midfielders or players who can play between midfield and attack to great effect, they will be overlooked. Or if they are introduced to the set-up, they will be immediately told to conform. Hardly cause for any optimism in that.
Trap may decide to walk, of course, frustrated with the ramblings of a deluded media and supporters who don't know their place. He may not take too kindly to criticisms from players, which will be inevitable. He often points to the limitations of this squad, but it was his own that cost us last week. In truth, they've been costing us for some time.
Sunday Indo Sport