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Monday 18 February 2019

Glut of non-runners makes it difficult to avoid a gamble

The James McCarthy saga is resolved but Ireland's manager has other quandaries, writes Dion Fanning

Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni during the squad announcement ahead of their upcoming EURO2012 championship qualifier against Macedonia. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni during the squad announcement ahead of their upcoming EURO2012 championship qualifier against Macedonia. Photo: Sportsfile

Dion Fanning

T he day after Ireland played Wales, Giovanni Trapattoni sat down with FAI officials for a cup of coffee in a Dublin hotel.

The Ireland manager was concerned that he was being repeatedly misunderstood. Earlier that day, another press conference had turned into a series of baffling exchanges as journalists sought clarifications from his interpreter, other journalists or anyone else in the room who might have a clue. The room split into several sub-groups, all interpreting some point, asking questions of each other or Marco Tardelli, Manuela Spinelli and even Trapattoni himself. Trapattoni's Italian lawyer was also in the room and some hoped she could bring clarity.

The Irish manager was also tired of answering questions about players who weren't there. It was always the same since he arrived. Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland and now James McCarthy. Ireland could win 3-0, as they had against Wales, and the questions were about a player sitting at home.

Trapattoni has a certain view of international football that might be considered quaint or romantic or passionate. It might simply be an Italian point of view. Trapattoni believes a player should want to play for his country. There should be no need for a manager or coach to persuade him.

Some feel Trapattoni allowed his past experiences with certain Irish players to colour his view of McCarthy. He may have seen him as belonging to a group that Stephen Ireland heads. A group that sees international football as an endurance to be fitted in to a daunting schedule. Trapattoni believes it is an honour. The problem is that James McCarthy does too.

So when Trapattoni reflected on a week of bad headlines which were not a cosmetic problem but causing strain between a player for Ireland's future and Ireland's present manager, it was recognised that something had to be done.

The situation would become more critical after Wigan's game at Anfield when McCarthy's club manager Roberto Martinez made more inflammatory comments about McCarthy's future but, by that stage, Trapattoni had agreed that something had to be done.

Over that coffee it was suggested to Trapattoni that he meet McCarthy. Those close to McCarthy had stated repeatedly that he wanted to play for Ireland. Senior officials in the FAI also knew this was the case, that McCarthy was not another Stephen Ireland.

The FAI has always worked hard at establishing relationships with the families of players who declare for Ireland. They had done it with Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson and Aiden McGeady. They had done the same with McCarthy's family.

There may have been a reluctance and a fear within the Association that McCarthy would be lost because of a severed relationship with a manager, if not a country, so they felt Trapattoni had to act.

As importantly, there is openness in their communication with Trapattoni. He has a good relationship with John Delaney and the FAI believe he is the most straightforward manager they have worked with since Jack Charlton.

Trapattoni was happy to take suggestions and the process was put in place for a meeting which, despite the ongoing comments of Martinez, should ensure that nobody is left questioning McCarthy's commitment to Ireland.

Trapattoni may now meet other players who he has been repeatedly questioned about. FAI sources suggested last week that he would soon try and sit down with Jamie O'Hara, the Wolves midfielder.

O'Hara is a different case again and one which may again conflict with Trapattoni's view of what an international footballer should want. Yet the FAI believe that he will commit to Ireland if approached in person by Trapattoni, even if the manager, and there are many who would support him, believes that an international manager should not have to do that.

Trapattoni should now be able to look forward to a week when he is asked about the players who are in the squad. Although with Shay Given and John O'Shea out and Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane struggling, he will certainly be preparing for a week in the unknown. He will be forced to take more gambles than normal and he never likes to take gambles.

Trapattoni, too, made a decision at that meeting with the FAI last month. At last Monday's squad launch, he spoke primarily in Italian so he was less likely to be misunderstood. Anybody who has spent time with Trapattoni will understand his ability to make a connection with people, something he tries to do by speaking the language. Reluctantly, he conceded that he wasn't being understood and decided to conduct most of his briefing in Italian.

By the time he was with a smaller group of Sunday journalists last week, he was speaking English again. He remained reasonably clear. There is unlikely to be any change of approach, even if Macedonia have only beaten Andorra in the group and Ireland must take three points.

McCarthy will take the headlines but he may only be introduced, Trapattoni joked, "if Ireland are winning 1-0 or 2-0."

With Keiren Westwood in goal and O'Shea and possibly Dunne missing, Trapattoni will feel anxious. He may not see this as the game to gamble with Ciaran Clark. Kevin Kilbane may yet continue his astonishing run. "We look at this all the time -- we try Ciaran Clark, we look forward for this situation. But remember Clark is only this year a player, he hasn't even two years' experience. I'll look at players when they come, I can't say it to writers before I explain to the players. It's important they come in and then we choose."

He will look at his midfield too where he has choices to make, even if the most adventurous selection -- McCarthy (pictured) -- is unlikely to be considered. Keith Andrews won't be in contention, the doubts about his fitness confirmed yesterday when he was withdrawn from the squad following his failure to play any part in Blackburn's draw with Blackpool.

There will be a lot of monitoring, but the other walking wounded are expected to report. Robbie Keane is no longer injured but can't be considered match-fit, having played 22 minutes for West Ham last weekend.

"Sure, he's important for his personality, he could score goals, but he also thinks about the other players. The team is important, he's not selfish he always thinks about the team, he leads the team."

Trapattoni went on to suggest that it may be better to introduce Keane once the game has settled which could mean a starting place for Shane Long.

Keane was another who was caught in Trapattoni's ill communication but Trapattoni again tried to clarify matters last week.

"It was a misunderstanding. I said if Robbie continued not to play at club level, he may not play for us. It's different. Those quotes were after something I said -- what I said was, if he continued not to play, then we'd have to reconsider the situation, which is not the case. Perhaps what I said was misunderstood."

He will always leave room for misunderstanding with his methods as well as his language. He says there is a danger if he went to watch McCarthy play, for example, that he would put the player "under pressure". He will continue to watch on DVD.

The results cannot be misunderstood. A win is essential and should be achieved against a Macedonian side which will be able to recall Goran Pandev from injury and a fit of temper. Even with the Inter Milan forward in the side, Ireland have to be positive. The return game in the heat of a Macedonian summer will be more of a test. By then, Ireland should have three more points and at least one gifted player comfortable in his surroundings.

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