Wednesday 24 January 2018

FAI count on Trapattoni to bring in the numbers

With a new stadium to fill, the FAI need a successful Ireland side, says Dion Fanning

J ohn Delaney must be the only man in Ireland not worried about money. Last week he promised again that the FAI would overcome every problem, including a biting consumer recession.

Sometimes Delaney gives the impression that if it wasn't for the media, he'd have no problems at all. He has attempted to transform the image of the Association and all he gets is people asking awkward questions.

This week, the FAI's AGM takes place in Wexford. It should be an historic week for the Association. They have delivered on a stadium, securing a home for Irish football, but there will be close scrutiny of the accounts to see if the mortgage the FAI has taken out is sustainable. Delaney insists there is nothing to worry about.

"Every time there's a hurdle to be jumped, we jump it. Sometimes you reflect on it when other national associations come in and they judge, in their opinion, how the FAI has been run in the last few years and at times they can't understand why there is the level of criticism that comes. They don't understand it compared to how well the Association, in their opinion, is run."

This view is not universally shared among the fabled grassroots who Delaney says will hail their achievements with the same gusto as the board of management which, as the FAI press release at the time put it, "unanimously asked current FAI chief executive John Delaney to remain in office for a further five-year term to 2015". He, of course, was proud to accept their request.

"The negativity doesn't come from within the game, when you think about it. There's huge support within the game at grassroots level. There's lots of very positive vibes there. For me, the negativity that comes . . . you'll probably read next week 'board under pressure' or something like that but in reality that won't happen. It will pass off on Saturday, it will be a good AGM in my opinion, it will be a good week and the accounts will be accepted. We made a record profit, a record turnover, a great stadium, Abbotstown, the grassroots flying, all that kind of stuff. The reality, at times and more so from one or two of the daily papers, there's a perception created that isn't the reality."

The FAI launched the Carling Four Nations competition last week, a meaningless and possibly even soul-destroying exercise which promises to allow fans to watch Wales play Northern Ireland in Dublin some time next year, maybe February, if that wasn't cold enough.

There will be very little for the supporters to get excited about in the new competition which is why everyone kept talking about "bragging rights", the kind of tabloidese language not normally spoken by humans. They may hope to create an edge of competition but it won't happen. The FAI have their share of a sparkling stadium and they have to fill it. The easiest way of doing that is if Giovanni Trapattoni's side is successful because, as Wednesday night demonstrated, they won't draw the crowds with their entertaining football.

There will be times when the new Lansdowne sounds like the old Lansdowne, but on Wednesday night it was established that Croke Park was not responsible for the bad atmosphere at recent Ireland games, the style of football was. There was plenty of noise when Manchester United played there but, unfortunately, they can't play at Lansdowne every week.

The FAI need Ireland to be successful for many reasons now. Trapattoni will be fit for the long trip to Yerevan next month and he will hope to see some development in the side. The goal Ireland conceded against Argentina was embarrassing. Marco Tardelli agreed that to concede directly from a goal-kick was not one of Trapattoni's "little details" but a pretty big one. The offside claims were irrelevant.

There wasn't much else for Irish fans to get excited about. The midfield area seems to be regressing and was a wasteland on Wednesday with Keith Fahey marginalised.

Greg Cunningham continues to show promise at full-back and Tardelli said he had a conversation a couple of months ago with Roberto Mancini who said the 19-year-old would be more involved.

"He's very clever, he's very quick and when they receive the ball he knows what to do. He is important, he is a good player for the squad." Manchester City might value him as a key under 21 player to get round the new quotas but their urgency suggests there won't be much patience with young players.

Trapattoni won't gamble in Armenia, we know that now if it was ever in doubt. The time is coming for Ireland to put their failure in the last campaign to some use. "Now we believe in ourselves. After the last qualification ended," Tardelli says, "Giovanni and I were afraid the way it finished would hurt the players' morale. But no, they were strong and hungry with a good mentality."

Everyone in the FAI is trying to think positively.

Sunday Independent

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