Friday 15 December 2017

Trap's recent decision-making has been unusually unpredictable – but his word is still law

Giovanni Trapattoni has put
the Irish squad through a heavy
training schedule prior to their
Euro 2012 Group C opener
against Croatia on Sunday
Giovanni Trapattoni has put the Irish squad through a heavy training schedule prior to their Euro 2012 Group C opener against Croatia on Sunday

David Kelly in GdYnia

For a man whose devotion to detail is sacrosanct, Giovanni Trapattoni's recent behaviour has been deviant rather than dependable.

Temporarily shedding his cloak of conservatism one day before turning his collar stiffly against the faintest breath of change the next, Trapattoni is unearthing ever more unpredictable patterns.

While his decision to ditch Kevin Foley earned a disproportionate amount of coverage, what wasn't examined was the manner in which the usually efficient Italian's decision to declare his 23-man hand had been unnecessarily hasty.

His wildly intemperate outburst last Monday in Budapest, when he seemed to indicate that he was prepared to abandon his equally hasty pre-ordination Euro 2012 starting line-up, was followed by a clarifying U-turn 24 hours later.

And then, merely hours after declaiming that any tiredness amongst his squad's doleful number -- specifically Aiden McGeady -- was purely psychological, he suddenly abandoned a scheduled day's training after consulting with his senior players.

These may seem like the normal actions of a manager entirely disposed to exercising his control and authority as he sees fit -- nobody, as the squad persistently insist, can dare question Trapattoni's gilded history in the game.

His history informs the present. It is just that the present is not currently reflective of Trapattoni's traditionally consistent modus operandi.

His gritty unbeaten away record with Ireland and his squad's presence at these major championships demand respect.

Trapattoni, however, would have surely craved a little more predictability during the most significant week of his Irish managerial career.

RUNNING SCARED?

Trapattoni's animated, multi-lingual unintelligibility is now a routine element of his tenure.

Yet it was still unusual to see the manager coursed by so many demons after Monday's friendly game, such that he found it impossible to amplify his underlying message until landing in Poland.

He remains genuinely fearful of being outnumbered in midfield, conscious that Slaven Bilic has an array of attacking players at his disposal who can morph into a variety of team formations.

All that Ireland can offer, as Trapattoni repeatedly avers to, is attitude and sacrifice and, in his eyes, an absence of those values for lengthy periods on Monday clearly unnerved him.

PLAYER POWER?

There is none. Player input, perhaps. But the final decisions most certainly rest with the manager.

The latest backtracking -- cancelling yesterday's training session despite asserting strongly that the workload has been "light" -- happened within a matter of hours and followed approaches from several players.

"The players can and do approach the manager," explains goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly. "You have to do that in any situation.

"He decided obviously on the back of the Hungary game, the travelling, what went on yesterday and a few niggles as well to say, 'no, shut down, shut down'. I think it surprised a lot of people.

"The players are happy they got the day off, of course they are. It would be remiss of him not to speak to Robbie or whoever and ask them how they're feeling.

"We can't come out and say 'oh no, he doesn't speak to anyone.' There's a relationship and he has a very good relationship with the players. He says to them 'if you have a problem, please come to me.'

Trapattoni may have initiated the chat before ending it with his decision; what went on in between may have been interesting.

"I think we're quite similar," says Keane of the pair's relationship. "The two of us can be quite fiery sometimes. I am usually quite laid-back, but if something needs to be said, I will say it straight away. There's no question about that.

"And I think the manager is very similar in that respect. So we've had a great relationship, and long may it continue."

DAY OFF

Few will begrudge a squad now entering a fourth week and a third country ensconced in each other's company.

"There are going to be times when people don't get on in training or people have a moan," says Keane. "But the most important thing we're here for is to do the country proud and do ourselves proud."

Trapattoni has experience of overseeing tired squads at major international summer tournaments so perhaps, after feeling out his players' state of mind, his conservative impulse kicked in.

His system, limited as it is, hardly needs refinement.

If it is his fear that the players cannot fulfil his responsibilities -- or are unable to coherently understand them -- then this is the wrong time and place for such a startling disclosure.

Perhaps a mental and physical break, with some of the players socialising at their leisure on Tuesday night, could be just what the squad needs -- despite the manager's uncharacteristic decision.

"There were a couple of things," outlined Kelly. "We trained on the pitch the night before Monday's game and it was hard.

"Then we had the downpours and the 15-minute delays. There's a couple of psychological things that come into play as well.

"For me, the shutdown is an assessment of Tuesday, the travelling and of conversations he would have with players. To say they don't happen wouldn't be right.

"He asks them 'how are you doing' and a player might say 'oh, it might be this it might be that."

"And he'd make a judgment on that, and the judgment is that it's a day off. I'm not going to sit here and say the manager just does this or he does that.

"He has a very good relationship with the players and that's why we've got a good unity. Because they can do that. That's his experience."

FROM PARIS TO SOPOT

Idealists would like to believe that a hint of Irish insurrection may cause a spirit of sustained creativity last witnessed in the second leg of the ill-fated World Cup play-off in Paris.

No chance.

Richard Dunne, Ireland's de facto leader, has previously railed against Ireland's inability to play the game on the ground, as did Glenn Whelan after the home defeat to Russia -- but the last month will have hardened the manager's belief that this is too risky an approach.

Beginning with Keane, whose fitness remains a worry, and Kevin Doyle, for whom form is an issue, every player will carry out the manager's instructions to the letter.

"I think we will be much the same" confirms Keane. "He (Trapattoni) has stuck to his ways, and every player coming onto the pitch knows exactly what job they have to do."

It has brought the team this far -- there is little logic in changing now.

NOT A GIVEN

Those close to Shay Given believe he has much less than a 50pc chance of starting in Poznan against Croatia -- the official bulletins would suggest otherwise.

His goalkeeping coach, Kelly, insisted that he would be able to play the game had it taken place last night -- but was less certain that he would be fit enough to train this morning.

Given was concerned enough about his knee to leave the Irish camp last month and get a second opinion in England; now that an apparently fresh calf problem has emerged, there must be severe doubts about his well-being.

He was clearly disgruntled after departing early on Monday night and he cut a forlorn figure at the open training session on Wednesday. The whole country will pray for Shay.

"It's all about the bigger picture, not what's happening right now," adds Kelly, confident that his No 1 will be alright on the night.

He was talking about Given's fitness worries. He could -- and Ireland supporters will dearly hope so -- also have been talking about Ireland's preparation for this championship.

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