Monday 18 December 2017

Inspiring the disillusioned top of the agenda for new manager

Whoever replaces Trap will face a long list of grumpy players writes Dion Fanning

Dion Fanning

As a couple of Irish players lingered to talk to reporters after a warm-up game against a Tuscan XI before last summer's European Championships, Darron Gibson was ready to go. He banged on the window of the Ireland coach to signal his impatience with those who had stopped to talk to the media.

Gibson has never enjoyed talking to the press and as the European Championships came to an end it became clear that he hadn't enjoyed that tournament. Even before it began, he was impatient with what was happening.

On that night in Tuscany, however, the players had an understandable reason to be upset. Kevin Foley had played in the game even though he had been told earlier that he wouldn't be part of the squad going to the European Championships.

Foley talked of feeling "betrayed" and when people compiled a list of players who had been ruthlessly or harshly treated by Giovanni Trapattoni, he was at the top of the list.

But they don't all belong in one category. There would, of course, be a bulging file for Stephen Ireland who can be seen as a trailblazer, having exiled himself from international football before Trapattoni's arrival as if pre-empting all the difficulties which would come along. He continued his exile throughout his management. Last week, he announced he would consider a return under a new manager.

"I think I would like to get together and have a chat and try to put everything on the table, put across ideas and just have a good general chat. If nothing comes out of it, nothing comes out of it, but I think it would be nice just to have a chat."

The new manager, whoever it is, will need to find time to discuss ideas with Stephen Ireland, even if it is not the urgent matter it was when Trapattoni took the job and Ireland's absence was felt.

In the days since Trapattoni's departure, Ireland and Gibson have been the most prominent of those who had difficulties of whatever kind with Trapattoni to suggest they are now ready to reconsider.

Some people might have felt great sympathy for Gibson last week. Finally he was able to relieve himself of the burden he carried for 12 months out of respect for Giovanni Trapattoni and Irish football. Luckily last week he found himself at a promotional event for one of his sponsors and he was, at last, able to take those chains from his heart.

Gibson spoke freely to the Irish press who had been asked to submit their questions in advance. The journalists asked questions other than those submitted and, in fairness to Gibson, he answered them.

He denied he had broken any curfew at the European Championships but insisted that was irrelevant as Trapattoni had taken against him before then. Perhaps when he was a reserve at Manchester United and considered it outrageous that he leave the club, Trapattoni might have formed an impression of a player who felt he'd arrived before he did it.

"To what club, other than Manchester United, could I go to improve my game?" Gibson was reported to have said while he was at Old Trafford although Trapattoni would later show journalists a text from Gibson in which he denied the quotes. "To be honest, if he's trying to say that I should move somewhere like Stoke City and change my game to winning tackles and not winning games, then he's having a laugh."

Gibson had a peripheral role in the winning of games at Manchester United and he has developed as a player since leaving Manchester United so Trapattoni might have had a point.

Gibson sees it another way. By the time the European Championships arrived, he was playing for a team that had finished seventh in the Premier League and Trapattoni was selecting players like Paul Green who weren't. "You've got a player playing for a Premier League team that finishes in the top six [sic] and you have someone – I don't want to show any disrespect to Paul Green – but he had been released from his club and he got on the pitch and I didn't so there was obviously something wrong."

Once again he views himself as indistinguishable from the team he plays for, even if he was impressive for Everton in those final months after leaving United. Gibson's eagerness to let it be known he was available again may not have been wise if he was looking for the public's sympathy. There are players who have been treated badly by Trapattoni and even in the squad, there were players who felt they had a tougher deal than Gibson.

"Darron didn't play when he was over there, that's the manager's prerogative," Stephen Kelly said in a Sunday Independent interview last year. "But there's a lot of us in that position, I think I'm in it more than anyone. I felt I played a huge part in the game that got us to the Euros in Tallinn. I've given a lot to the team. To be perfectly honest, if anyone is to feel aggrieved at not playing, I think I have the strongest case."

Gibson's position is not viewed as sympathetically by some in the Irish squad as Kevin Foley or Kelly himself who, subsequent to that interview, fell out with Trapattoni and ultimately had to issue a statement dismissing claims by the then manager that he had demanded to play in the Faroe Islands or he wouldn't travel. Few found that version of events plausible as Kelly had always stressed his commitment to his country. The FAI were reported to have believed that something was "lost in translation" as Kelly was not the type of player to make demands.

There were others, too, who were more deserving of sympathy than Gibson. Before the game in Stockholm, Kevin Doyle issued a statement expressing his disappointment at being informed by text that he wasn't part of the squad.

The treatment of Doyle, Kelly, Foley and Kevin Kilbane, who was also harshly discarded, might have simply reflected Trapattoni's approach to football. It was life but it was also simply business and anybody unprepared for its ruthlessness didn't know the reality.

Andy Reid was the first to experience the brutal treatment by Trapattoni. Even in his final weeks in the job, Trapattoni could mention his name as an example as he saw it of the obsessive nature of the questioning about the players he had discarded. There might have been too much talk about Reid but his ongoing exclusion never made much sense either.

Trapattoni never felt he was excluding world-class talents which was a valid point of view if he hadn't been picking other lesser talents.

A report said last week that Martin O'Neill would make maximum use of the 'granny rule' in an attempt to expand the pool of players available to the manager. Players like Gibson, Reid and Ireland, if he could recover some form, would also increase the talent available.

In his Irish Examiner column yesterday, Keith Andrews said the players would have no problem with Gibson's return but also stated that his comments about Green were "unfair" and that he would not have gone into voluntary retirement if he had been in the same position.

O'Neill could be certain to manage the players who have been disaffected in a different way as could Mick McCarthy who has always had a close relationship with his players.

In an attempt to improve on what went before, the FAI might be tempted to look for a manager whose approach to man-management is radically different to Trapattoni's. O'Neill is the favourite for many reasons but his man-management is one of them. Yet the FAI are also stressing that they will take their time and among the other candidates Hector Cuper is eager to meet with the association and let them hear his ideas.

When Steve Staunton left, there was a feeling that the players had been over-protected and many looked with relish at the YouTube clip of Trapattoni at Bayern Munich speaking his truth over and over again. They gleefully looked forward to the dismantling of the Premier League egos but in admiring the zeal, they had never anticipated the backlash.

The new manager will be eager to inspire the disillusioned. The disgruntled will be feeling more gruntled, even if some have more justifiable grievances aggainst the old regime than others.

Sunday Independent

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