Wednesday 21 March 2018

Ireland have now reached point of irreversible decay

Dion Fanning

Delaney must do now what he should have done already and show Trap the door, writes Dion Fanning

Giovanni Trapattoni walked into the press conference on Friday night and started to make his subtle excuses. The first was that there would be no excuses.

Shortly after this statement, he asked the journalists in the room if they knew of any undiscovered Irish players in America. If they didn't, his message appeared to be, then pipe down. He was stuck with this group. And Ireland was stuck with him.

There were no excuses, except plenty of excuses, and again he appeared to blame the Irish players for, well, being the Irish players.

This is a fair point, except that Trapattoni was hired to make the Irish players perform beyond their abilities. When he was a great manager, he produced teams of cohesion and purpose who were greater than the sum of their parts. Now he just complains about the parts.

In the dressing room on Friday night, Trapattoni said very little. "He didn't have too many words. He was disappointed like the rest of us," Robbie Brady confirmed after the game, "so I'm sure he'll have more words when we get back to the hotel."

There were more words back in Portmarnock as Trap tried to discover what went wrong. In the dressing room, Robbie Keane had offered a rallying cry along familiar lines that included the words 'pick ourselves up'. It is hard to see how that can happen while Trapattoni remains in charge.

The FAI's failure to act in the summer resulted in the limp, directionless performance against Germany on Friday night. The defeat at the Aviva didn't come out of thin air, it was not an aberration. Instead it was the logical conclusion of the manager's capricious approach to managing the national side and the FAI's reluctance, for whatever reason, to do something about it.

In the week after Ireland exited the European Championships, John Delaney showed me a text from Trapattoni giving his full backing to the chief executive of the FAI. It was a rare instance of a manager giving a vote of confidence to one of his employers.

Delaney had his own questions to answer then and he does today. He said he was entitled to a night out in Poland and indeed he was entitled to a night out. In 1940, the Belgian army said they were entitled to extra days off each month and voted to extend their leave time shortly before the German tanks came rolling over the border. As a wise man once said, holidays are a peacetime concept.

The FAI had an administratively successful European Championships but everything else was a failure. The crisis was then and their failure to act has created another now.

In the summer, there was a helplessness, a reluctance to move on the evidence that was being presented about Trapattoni's team and management. His bizarre selection decisions, his refusal to embrace change -- and not pay lip service to it as he did with his selection on Friday night -- was clear at this point. Yet the FAI did very little.

On Friday night, there was the final evidence that the months of uncertainty and unpredictability have worn down the team.

There was no need for it to come to this. Trapattoni achieved many of his objectives with Ireland but now they are fading away. His natural cycle as Ireland manager came to an end in the summer. There was nothing extraordinary or controversial about that. The only extraordinary thing is the FAI's denial that this is the case, that things can carry on as they were before.

Trapattoni said he couldn't remember a defeat as bad but in fact he lost 7-0 with Salzburg just before he took the Ireland job.

Few could remember as abject an Irish performance. Trapattoni arrived referencing Cyprus but there was no home performance as bad as this under Steve Staunton. Even benchmarking himself against Stan seems like a stretch now.

The straitjacket this team has been placed in under Trapattoni was glimpsed in one moment in the first half during what will, for all time, be remembered as Ireland's good spell.

Ireland had a free-kick 10 yards inside their own half. It was routine but even this moment required Darren O'Dea to consult with the bench over who should take the free. He pointed at Westwood, then pointed at himself. Then, having received the all-clear, O'Dea knocked the ball 50 yards upfield as everyone knew he would. A few German passes later, Ireland were defending at the edge of their own box. This again was during Ireland's good spell, the golden age.

In fact, Ireland crumbled the minute the Germans established the chronic lack of confidence. The Germans were magnificent and if there is one pleasure in watching Trapattoni's Ireland, it is that the world's great teams are always given the freedom to express themselves.

This was not how it was supposed to be when Delaney, to his great credit, showed the ambition, backed by Denis O'Brien's money, to take Ireland's managerial hunt to another level.

Trapattoni brought stability after the Steve Staunton era but now things have entered a period of irreversible decay. Ambition was shown when Delaney approached Trapattoni and now it's required to get rid of this manager.

There are Irish players who deserve better. Seamus Coleman is an outstanding young talent who deserved more than to be dropped in it on Friday night. Stephen Kelly was ignored again by Trapattoni when he would have offered calmness, awareness and experience in the back four. Kelly deserves better too from a manager whose selection decisions again baffled many.

If Coleman had started in front of Kelly, he would have been spared the raw exposure to the Germans and Ireland might have had some solidity on the right. Instead Trapattoni scarred Coleman while Kelly was overlooked unfairly once again.

Astonishingly Simon Cox stayed on the field for most of the game. Perhaps Trapattoni was paralysed by the ineptitude he was witnessing on the flanks and couldn't decide who to replace -- Cox or Aiden McGeady.

McGeady was more illuminating after the game when he spoke of the need to change and hinted at the decay when he said this would not have happened to Ireland two years ago. "A couple of years ago we were unbeaten in quite a good few games," he said. "We were playing some of the top teams here. We were drawing or almost sneaking a win. Tonight we just got put to the sword."

McGeady acknowledged that Ireland were lucky to escape with a 6-1 defeat at home and reflected that something had to change. "Something has got to change in the way we play. Possibly we can take more onus on us having the ball instead of playing for flick-ons and second balls."

The players were expected to meet yesterday to discuss the humiliation but as long as Trapattoni believes he is hindered by the limitations of the squad, nothing will change. Those who felt a system change would see Ireland pass the ball forgot that Trapattoni's instructions matter most of all. They won't alter and it has seen the alienation of some of Ireland's more talented players.

James McClean was ignored for the Euros and in Kazakhstan, Shane Long is being left out for unfathomable reasons. He should have started but he remains, in Trapattoni's eyes, an impact player, even if it's hard to make an impact when Ireland are two goals down. Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson would have improved the side as well.

When Trapattoni complains of injuries, it must be pointed out that Jonathan Walters, Ireland's only bright point on Friday, wouldn't have started if Robbie Keane had been fit. Richard Dunne was a massive loss, but Trapattoni had all the players whose absence he lamented yesterday at the European Championships and they didn't put up a fight. They allowed Spain to play as they allowed Germany to play on Friday.

Ireland are left now to scrabble around and search for vindication in the Faroe Islands as Trap now claims they found it previously in Kazakhstan. Victory in the Faroes and Trapattoni will assert that all is well again. Ireland have found their level.

In fact, victory on Tuesday would increase the need for a new manager. Ireland could possibly hope to compete with Sweden for second place with a new manager who created a sense of purpose for the team. While Trapattoni remains in place, there is no chance of change. Armenia are the highest ranking team they have beaten under Trapattoni in a competitive game.

He achieved some things with Ireland and he has also been given great leeway. If Terry Venables had attempted to do the job from his villa in Spain, there would have been a national outcry. Trapattoni, for the most part, has been excused the duty of watching games and he has been given the benefit of the doubt in most communication breakdowns.

The team no longer does what he came in promising it would do. There are valid points to be made about the limitations of the players but Friday night was not primarily about technique. It was about the absence of organisation and spirit. When Trapattoni was asked where the spirit had gone, he said Ireland showed plenty of it in Kazakhstan. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

There are alternatives out there. Mick McCarthy has the respect of the players; Roy Keane would welcome the challenge. If somebody like Kevin Kilbane could work with him, Ireland would have an impressive management team. At the moment, Steve Kean would do a better job. If Denis O'Brien remains involved others such as Rafa Benitez or Harry Redknapp might be interested.

John Delaney celebrates his 45th birthday in the Faroe Islands on Tuesday. Maybe he'll decide he's entitled to a night out. Irish football is entitled to more than it witnessed on Friday. No matter what happens on Tuesday, it won't be a time for celebration.

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