Thursday 22 February 2018

Ireland thrive on Trapattoni's survival skills

Italian's confidence filters through to a side ready to grow together, writes Dion Fanning

Marco Tardelli sat at the back of the room demanding some credit for his manager and nurturing resentments. Giovanni Trapattoni was on the podium at the front of the room, conducting his press conference at the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Friday night. He was a vindicated man but some in the press conference felt he still had some explaining too. Tardelli didn't think so. He pointed to one journalist. "He said this would be Giovanni's Waterloo."

Instead Trapattoni emerged victorious, triumphing in his way, defeating the armies lined up against him. He routed them 0-0.

If the FAI learned about Trapattoni's extraordinary composure in the week following the Germany defeat last October then he reminded the rest of us in Stockholm about his resilience. If Ireland can beat Austria on Tuesday – and that won't be easy – then the manager has demonstrated something that lies somewhere between the footnotes and trophies on his CV and explains them all: his skill at survival.

Trapattoni was entitled to celebrate on Friday night, even if as the final whistle blew he was still annoyed by the late Swedish chance and the stupid free-kick conceded by Andy Keogh that had allowed it.

The 24 hours before the game had been chaos, most of it created by Trapattoni. Yet none of it mattered on the field. Ireland began with intent and energy. If they reduced their ambitions as the game went on, they were disciplined in their search for the main prize: a point. It is strange to say about a team that didn't manage a shot on goal but Ireland could have won. The continuation of Trapattoni's astonishing away record might have been satisfying but he was stressing the importance of victory on Tuesday night. "We have to win. Yes. Obviously."

He was also entitled to point to the way he has, as he promised to much ridicule, refreshed the team. Seamus Coleman is a Champions League full-back while Marc Wilson also brings outstanding qualities. James McCarthy demonstrated on Friday that he will play at the highest level for a long time. Paul Green justified Trapattoni's faith in him and showed an ability to ignore the heaps of criticism.

Green's selection alongside McCarthy made more sense than Trapattoni's original team with two Gennaro Gattusos and no James McCarthy. Trapattoni stumbled on his best side, although as he sat in the gods, Tardelli disputed this. Who knew what Glenn Whelan would have done if he had been selected, he said.

Sweden were so poor that Ireland would probably have still claimed a point but it would be a shame if, having brought through a team that looks like it can grow together, the management again forgot the difference between good and bad footballers.

Wilson and Coleman should have been first choice a long time ago but Ireland now have more players who can play and allow Trapattoni a more refined version of his system which involves occasionally keeping the ball.

He had been confident all week and even in his bizarre pre-match press conference he was easy to understand, even if he was illogical. His confidence had transmitted to the team who had ignored the noise.

"I don't know what it was all week," Shane Long said. "There was that confidence around the place, we all felt positive going into the game and were thinking, 'We can win this'. I think that showed on the pitch. We got on the ball, we passed it well and caused them problems at the back."

If Long had taken his early chance, more might have been achieved but Ireland, as they have been so often under Trapattoni, are still in the game.

On Friday night, Tardelli still prowled as Trapattoni was asked if he felt people had forgotten all he had achieved, if he had been denied respect.

"No, it's not important for me. It's important what I did in the past. I achieved a play-off against France, achieved the Euros with this team. We have changed all the team. We have only two players this evening from the European Championships."

Tardelli interrupted at this point. "You speak about the people not the journalists. It's different." He was reminding Trap of a familiar refrain and he was off, talking about the warmth he experiences from "many, many, many people" around Ireland. There is no denying this and it would make no sense for anyone not to be friendly towards Trapattoni. It would be hard to find a journalist who doesn't find the manager likeable and compelling. If the media wanted entertainment from press conferences and a story generator for all time, they would demand that Trapattoni's stay is prolonged indefinitely.

Unless Ireland lose on Tuesday, Trapattoni will finish the campaign. He was, he said, unconcerned by the instability of his job and said pressure was always one game away. "No, no no, I never feel secure. Never. Never. I am old and have experience. You miss two results and the FAI or other clubs or in Italy they say, 'Bye bye-away'. I am quiet and happy in my job. But I know what happens when you lose a game even if it's not your fault, you can miss a penalty or the goalkeeper can make a mistake. You can lose and it's not your fault. The result is result. I'm very serene about this."

His chaotic serenity transferred to the team on Friday who knew what to do and forgot their inexperience and the muddle of the team selection with McCarthy told he wasn't creative and Robbie Brady left wondering about his selection.

Brady was puzzled by Trapattoni's comments when he took the unusual step of saying he was leaving a player out of the team to see how he responded to being left out of the team and if he responded well, he would select him.

The player felt he had no "psychological" doubts but, in the end, Jonathan Walters started because Trap feared a lack of cover and experience without Whelan.

Yet this was not an inexperienced team with eight Premier League players in the starting 11. At one point after the game, Trapattoni seemed to be saying Ireland over-achieved given the number of Championship players he had to pick but then he went back on that.

Ireland showed on Friday night that they can still qualify for the World Cup. Tuesday will be another test. Victory would be a statement of this new team's purpose given the desperate matches Irish supporters have had to watch against teams like Slovakia and Montenegro

Ireland now look as if they have players who can win a match. Wes Hoolahan showed what he can do and it would have been good to see him get more time with Shane Long in front of him.

They can hope they'll change things if needed on Tuesday night.

As he sat at the back of the room on Friday, Tardelli wondered why nobody ever said well done to the manager when he walked into a press conference.

He has been closer to this remarkable man and understands all he has withstood. Trapattoni survives which is a victory in itself. If Ireland win on Tuesday, Marco Tardelli may even be happy with the reaction.

Irish Independent

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