The blame game: Trap admits, ‘if we lose, it’s my fault’
Trap admits, ‘if we lose, it’s my fault’ – but still maintains main reason for exit was that the players froze
THE mourning after the night before. It was a dull day in Gdynia yesterday. Appropriately so.
While Giovanni Trapattoni ran his fringe players through a crossing and shooting session, the men who played a part in Thursday's drubbing at the hands of Spain watched from behind the goal.
They couldn't hide the sense of deflation and dejection that has enveloped the Irish camp. This was supposed to be the beginning of an exciting weekend building up into a thrilling conclusion with Italy in Poznan on Monday.
But Tuesday's flight home is already booked. And, while the public knew that Ireland would always face an uphill task in Group C, they still want answers.
Trapattoni's strong post-match comments in Gdansk indicated that he believed that the players simply hadn't carried out his instructions.
Many Irish fans feel that the instructions are the problem. Instead of looking forward to Monday, we find ourselves looking back, while also wondering about the wider implications for the long-term future.
WHAT WAS TRAPATTONI SAYING YESTERDAY?
The manager's words were clear on Thursday night. He clearly blamed fear and tension in the ranks for the mistakes the players made in the Spanish game, following on from the Croatian debacle -- specifically, the concession of early goals in both halves.
It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest he was questioning their bottle. He spoke of teams being gripped by such nerves when they move from one plain to another.
His message was similar yesterday, aside from an initial statement that "If we lose, my fault." Which is fair enough, considering that Trapattoni has always asked people to judge him on his results rather than, say, the excitement level of the performances.
But when it came down to analysing what specifically went wrong, the manager reverted to the same tone. The primary excuse was that the players froze.
"We started these two games with fear," he said. "We started with a fear with the ball. We have not the same attitude that we had in the past. Until we qualified, we had this determination, this mentality. I've never seen this fear in the last two years. That we could psychologically concede a goal after two minutes.
"We lost a bit of trust, a bit of confidence, because the responsibility was heavy."
WHAT DID HE SAY ABOUT HIS TACTICS?
His big call for Thursday was dropping Kevin Doyle and summoning Simon Cox as an auxiliary midfielder, making it a 4-5-1 formation or a 4-4-1-1, depending on your viewpoint.
He defended this decision, stating that Cox's role was to curb the influence of Xabi Alonso. Yet he says that falling behind within four minutes threw the game plan out the window.
"I wanted to look to help the midfield and, at the same time, we also want to put players on that can also help the attack," he said.
"Spain were too strong for us though, they were superior in every position. We always play with two strikers, two wingers, which is very, very offensive. I had to learn from the situation in Hungary, and didn't play two strikers."
What he didn't address, however, was the choice of Robbie Keane as a lone ranger. The skipper was isolated and could do little to help when clearances were punted over his head. He was patently the wrong person for that role, but Trapattoni shied away from making a big call.
Instead, Doyle (left) was the fall guy. But the 73-year-old insists he got it right, brushing off questions which queried whether he would do anything different if he had the chance again.
WHAT ABOUT ROY KEANE'S COMMENTS?
The Corkman was unhappy about the scenes in Gdansk after the final whistle.
"The players and supporters have to change the mentality," he said. "It's just nonsense to say how great the supporters are. The supporters want to see the players do a lot better and not give daft goals away like that.
"Let's not just go along for the sing-song now and again."
Trapattoni was made aware of the comments, and, while stressing his respect for Keane the player, he pointedly referred to the ex-Ireland captain's faltering career in the dugout.
"I ask you, what did he do after he stopped playing?" he replied. "He was a great player -- a very great player -- who had great results. Now he is a coach and should focus on results."
Significantly, though, the Italian added that Keane was part of a much better Irish generation.
In other words, he was saying that it would be wrong to have similar expectations of the current group. And that hints at a key element of the Trapattoni philosophy.
DOES HE FEEL THAT THE PLAYERS JUST AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH?
His conservative approach with team selection suggests as much. And his praise for them yesterday was qualified.
"Obviously the ranking is clear," he said. "But we deserved to qualify.
"We can't compare the team we have now with teams of the past. I am proud to lead these players because, I know, they have a good attitude, good mentality, good commitment.
"We don't have a Messi, or Ronaldo, or great technical players."
This is why he applies a rigid system to this team, a style of play that revolves around stopping others from playing.
If he was to change his system to the modern 4-2-3-1 he would need a real playmaker, and he doesn't seem confident that he possesses one.
So, anyone who anticipates a revamp of the playing style is more than likely going to be disappointed.
WILL HE MAKE CHANGES FOR THE ITALY GAME?
Trapattoni appears to have made a rod for his own back by talking in conspiratorial terms about the manner in which his Italian side was knocked out of Euro 2004.
A suspicious draw between Sweden and Denmark eliminated Italy. After speaking at length about integrity, his approach to Monday's game will be scrutinised in Spain and Croatia.
"What do you think the others will say if I make five, six, seven changes. They will say I made it easy," he said. "And we have a friendly in August (v Serbia).
The flip side is that his primary responsibility should be to the Irish people.
For the future, it would probably be of more benefit to give the likes of James McClean, Darron Gibson, Shane Long and Keiren Westwood the opportunity to figure on this stage. They are likely to be key figures in the next campaign.
There were six thirty-somethings in Thursday night's starting team.
ARE THIS TEAM SIMPLY TOO OLD?
It's a fair question. Admittedly, fitness concerns surrounding key performers have interrupted the build-up, so you can perhaps understand why Shay Given and John O'Shea have been off the pace.
However, there has been a noticeable lack of vibrancy and energy. Spain are the masters of pressing, of putting opponents under pressure. That is supposed to be a key strength of Irish teams too, but they've looked lethargic -- although this also brings the complaints about the heavy training schedule into the debate.
Trapattoni doesn't want his senior stars to retire. Given seems to be contemplating it. Keane and Damien Duff have decisions to make. Richard Dunne has stated with certainty he will stay and, hopefully, a rough time in Poland won't change his opinion. As Trapattoni pointed out, there is no international-class replacement for the Dubliner.
"It is possible for all these players to continue now," said Trapattoni. "They can also be very helpful with encouraging others."
He was asked if there is a chance that he could start the opening World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan with the same XI. "Wait and you will see," he said. "After the friendly in August (in Serbia) you will have a better idea of the project."
It may have been a humbling week, but his conviction is that the players must do better. Don't expect radical change from the top.