Sunday 25 February 2018

Euro 2012: ‘We’ll finish with honour, then turn the page’ - Trap

Italian won't go down without a fight but his judgement cannot be trusted anymore, writes Dion Fanning

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni

Dion Fanning

Giovanni Trapattoni wasn't despondent, even if the tournament was not going as anticipated. "I believe the glass is half-full. Others see the glass half-empty." Then things got worse.

Giovanni Trapattoni didn't say this last week, although he could have before Ireland played Spain and the glass was knocked back, emptied and turned upside down on the bar. "Like all your dreams being crushed in one night," Richard Dunne said.

No, Trapattoni said this in 2004 when he failed with Italy in another tournament, in another country, just as he failed last week with Ireland.

Trapattoni's greatness as a manager comes from his refusal to be swayed by the opinion of others. He has spent a lifetime ignoring other views and backing his own judgement. It is what made him a great football manager. "I always look to the future," he said on Friday. Unfortunately, for a man not to be swayed by outside opinion, his judgement has to be sound. This tournament has suggested that Trapattoni's can no longer be trusted.

He is a conservative manager but he made decisions last week which were illogical and irrational. He was conservative the way a creationist is conservative.

Trapattoni's concept of original sin in football remains unaltered: what we have we hold. Last week, Ireland ended up with a mutation of that philosophy: what we don't have, we hold.

In those circumstances, Trapattoni was not cautious, he was contrary and stubborn. Simon Cox was called from the bench and played on the left side of midfield. Then Cox started against Spain.

Ireland would probably have lost to Spain no matter what team they picked, but they made it easy.

"They're the best international team in the world, reigning world and European champions," Damien Duff acknowledged, before adding, "but I don't think we helped ourselves at times. We gave away sloppy goals at crucial times that just kills us, shooting ourselves in the foot."

From a neutral's point of view, Ireland might be the ideal team to play Spain if you want to watch the great side allowed to express themselves. Certainly, there was nothing in the way Ireland played that suggested they would do anything to stop them. Ireland showed the difference between anti-football and no football at all. Ever.

Trapattoni has gone to war for results and he has been defeated in every battle. His substitutions against Croatia were bewildering, his selection against Spain was an abdication of responsibility. If Ireland had a successful tournament, Ireland's players would have grown. Now, no matter what happens in garbage time against Italy tomorrow, there is a sense that the team must be rebuilt. Trapattoni might talk about this but he is not a man for change.

James McCarthy had his own sad reasons for not being part of the squad and he was missed. Trapattoni wouldn't have played him anyway but who could believe the manager if he said McCarthy would be part of Ireland's future?

There will be pressure on him to achieve results, even if the achievement may have been in qualifying for this tournament and making Ireland competitive again.

"We came here with the aim and the dream of winning the European Championships," Richard Dunne said yesterday. "It's completely gone wrong for us."

Duff was one of many who were asking why last week. "Why? Why?" Trapattoni asked on Friday. Yesterday, he was on his feet, re-enacting Spanish movement and Irish bewilderment.

Some players were asking other questions. The manager, as Trapattoni admitted, is always the man blamed for a defeat, even a defeat to a team as great as Spain.

But it was the defeat to Croatia and the manner of it that did damage to Trapattoni and his reputation with this squad. From that moment, just as in 2004 with Italy, he was defending himself and his choices. Just as in 2004, last week, he ran out of excuses.

Yesterday he claimed that his team were unable to respond once they had conceded the early goal, ignoring the fact that Ireland had equalised against Croatia and then conceded two more sloppy goals.

His team, he said, "were not their normal selves" and lacked the "personality" to reply. He said there was

a lack of leadership, not from individuals, but from the team as a whole.

The players may bristle when they hear of those comments but the phrases they used, "shoot ourselves in the foot", "kick in the teeth", suggested they were as close as a group of footballers can be to talking openly about their disappointment.

The dejection when they trained on Friday could be sensed in the stand and, no matter how they talk of wanting to restore their reputation tomorrow night in Poznan, they would rather be someplace else.

"It's been tough, we came out here with high expectations," Shane Long said yesterday. "We believed in ourselves and to lose the first two games kills the atmosphere a bit. But hopefully we can do ourselves proud in the third game, give the fans what they deserve and get a good result."

Long said Trapattoni had given them his views but they will stay private. However, "we're not stupid, we know where it went wrong."

For Trapattoni, this time, tournament failure could not be blamed on a conspiracy so instead he focused on the players' failings.

"We have no player who can orchestrate, we can't play like an orchestra like Spain."

The manager was supposed to be overcoming these weaknesses but instead he made things worse.

Trapattoni's decision to send Simon Cox on to play wide on the left, the substitution of Kevin Doyle when Keane should have been the first to go against Croatia and the failure to address the reality that Shay Given wasn't fit were all mistakes made in the first game.

His team selection against Spain was baffling but by then Ireland were under intense pressure and Trapattoni has a valid argument when he mentions 'the fear' of the players. They seemed overawed by the occasion and their lack of experience at big clubs might be something that has contributed.

Trapattoni is going to make one point about this tournament whenever it is brought up and it hardly credits him with much sophistication as a manager.

Yesterday, he repeatedly returned to the difficulties the team had once they were chasing the game and needed to create. "We are good technically but we don't have creative players," he said.

Wesley Hoolahan might disagree with that. He is a better player than Simon Cox and capable of doing what was asked of Cox on Thursday.

It wouldn't have made much difference against Spain but Ireland didn't do the things that may have least allowed for a heroic defeat.

Trapattoni considered it his "duty" to select the players who had helped qualify. Shay Given and Robbie Keane have been first among them.

Keane divides opinion in an extraordinary way for a man who has scored more goals than anyone for Ireland and is in the top 20 international goalscorers of all time.

His commitment to Ireland can't be questioned, even if his concentration and ability to be part of a system can. With Keane, you make a deal: his goals in return for playing with one man less when you don't have the ball.

Against Spain, he should have been sacrificed. Ireland needed a functioning system and that would have been more likely with Walters behind Doyle rather than the two who played in front of Ireland's swamped midfield.

Doyle had played well against Croatia and his reward was to be dropped. Trapattoni's determination to favour certain players is common sense, some argue, but anybody who remembered Keane's performance in Moscow knew that he was more capable of that against a team that would dominate than the fine display in Tallinn when he did more than anyone to secure a 4-0 win.

Given had a disappointing tournament but he is not alone with Keith Andrews the only player able to say he had made a real contribution when it mattered. Given has started to make more mistakes as was demonstrated in the goals Ireland conceded against Armenia and Estonia in the autumn.

Given is the most likely to retire. Damien Duff will earn his 100th cap tomorrow and he has mentioned that he is in the "home straight". Duff showed glimpses of his tremendous talent in the first two matches. Even at 33, his awareness was in contrast to the befuddled performances of Aiden McGeady, who appeared to think he had made his point with a good 45 minutes against Bosnia before Ireland left Dublin a long, long time ago.

The deficiencies in the Irish game mimic those in England. Ireland will have the same debate that takes place whenever England exit a major tournament with the added anxiety brought about by the knowledge that they produced footballers in Scotland once.

The FAI are not in a position to throw money at the problem, not with a mortgage to pay on a stadium.

The FAI's international high performance director Wim Koevermans is about to leave, having been appointed manager of the Indian national side. "He's getting more money in India," was Trapattoni's rueful reflection on his departure.

The FAI would have hoped that the country was so delighted by the team this summer that they would return in massive numbers.

The country's enthusiasm for the game, or at least the big event, was reflected in the viewing figures and the support in Poland but rugby is now a more attractive draw.

But nothing captures the world's attention like football, unfortunately for Ireland this week. The FAI are determined to stick with their

manager. There is no obvious alternative but Trapattoni was not the obvious alternative four years ago until Denis O'Brien's contribution allowed the FAI to seek out better candidates.

But if the rumblings of discontent from players get louder and Ireland lose in Kazakhstan in September, then it might be trickier for Trapattoni to continue.

Ireland are in a group in which they should be able to compete for a play-off place, although even second does not guarantee that with one of the nine second-place teams across the groups missing out.

Trapattoni's rebuilding will be done within the context of that challenge. More importantly, he must move away from the system that ensures Ireland are over-run whenever they play a team with verve and technique like Russia or Spain.

But there will be no more football, no nod to creativity. Instead he will rule with the capriciousness which has become so familiar but which was baffling last week.

The players might be bewildered too. They have let his ruthless treatment of men like Kevin Kilbane and Steven Reid slide in the understanding that football is a cruel business and only the toughest survive.

Yet when the search for scapegoats begin, Trapattoni knows he is among the hunted. He was tired over the past two days, a consequence of defeat and the late-night reviewing of the game. By yesterday, he was able to talk about renewal and he sounded plausible again.

"I don't want to play the violin, but why would we leave this country? It is fantastic. The critics are the critics. We have a good team and we have a new generation. We start again with new enthusiasm."

He will stick with the team who qualified in Poznan tomorrow but then he is promising change. "We will finish with honour tomorrow and our duty is to this squad but then we'll turn the page."

Trapattoni is the toughest of them all. Ireland went down without a fight. He won't.

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