Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 February 2018

James Lawton: Public needs to get real and appreciate Trap's success

James Lawton

James Lawton

At an age when most men have left such things buried in the follies of their youth, Giovanni Trapattoni may just have experienced a moment of truth.

Circumstances have certainly come to the aid of the recently imperilled maestro coach.

Unsuspected levels of player support -- after a steady drip of individual insurrections -- and the continued willingness of the FAI's leading benefactor to support one of international football's largest pay-checks has brought a pardon -- or at least a stay of execution -- on what increasingly appeared to be death row.

Also helping, maybe, has been an onset of reality in the thinking of the world's 28th-ranked nation.

For all his sins of omission, the 73-year-old owner of one of the game's greatest reputations still represents levels of hard-won knowledge and instinct that must be the envy of the rivals who lay one place above and one below Ireland in the world rankings.

The 27th-rated Mali Eagles have their chances of World Cup qualification in the hands of 42-year-old Frenchman Patrice Carteron, whose last assignment was the doomed one of trying to keep Dijon in the French top flight.

As for 29th-placed Bosnia Herzegovina, they rely on the coaching wiles of Safet 'Pape' Susic, a hugely skilful and popular winger who scored 21 goals in 54 appearances for Yugoslavia.


However, as a coach, Pape's record is somewhat less imposing despite a run of recent victories -- and is certainly barely the palest shadow of Trapattoni's extraordinary career, consisting mostly of campaigning in Turkey.

The point is that perhaps an extremely practical consensus has grown out of the trouncing by Germany and the sense that, if victory over the Faroe Islands can never been seen as full-blown redemption, it did provide just enough evidence of enduring respect for the aura of Trapattoni, certainly something that might run a little deeper than the formal expression of it by the already committed Robbie Keane, Keith Andrews and Darren O'Dea.

None of these players have had reason to be aggrieved by a regime that has been so sharply challenged by such as Shane Long (right), James McClean and Stephen Kelly, but maybe their statements of support did reflect a dawning belief that putting down Old Trap would have looked to a wider world something like an act of football regicide.

If the king was to die, who among current Irish footballers could truly claim to have any natural-born right to administer the sword?

No doubt there have been serious complaints against Trapattoni's recent style of management. His aloofness, his unwillingness to take a Geiger counter along to Premier League games in the hope of detecting new, live contenders for a place in his team, were handy weapons to wield against a man who reached his lowest point since the Euro finals meltdown when Germany were allowed the run of the Aviva Stadium.

But if Trapattoni had perhaps never known such vulnerable terrain in a brilliant career, the indictment against him was not so strong when it came to measuring quite what he had achieved, and with such sparse resources, after stepping into the vacuum left first by Brian Kerr and then Steve Staunton.

Against a background of rage at the disappearance of those days when participation in major tournaments had become, however quixotically with the decline of playing quality on which Big Jack Charlton had made his great impact, not a desire but a right, Trapattoni created a 10-match World Cup qualifying campaign which was nothing less than a great triumph of will and defiance over any number of football realities.

Trapattoni didn't have the players, but he had the method and the will, and if Thierry Henry hadn't got away with one of the most outrageous pieces of larceny in the history of international football, Ireland would probably have made it to South Africa. They did get to the European finals but, if the result was humiliating in Poland, it is hard to know quite what alchemy in the dugout would have been required to get the better of Croatia, who came so close to beating the lionised champions Spain; the Italy who ambushed Germany; and the team of Iniesta which went home in such a glow of triumph.

Trapattoni, it is true, never looked likely to challenge the reputation of Merlin. Indeed, he stood on the touchline with the expression of a man who had looked into the immediate future and seen only a skull's head.

So what can he offer now in the first days of the rest of his football life? How can he turn the friendly duel with Greece into a rallying point for a renewed effort to get to Brazil via a side-door?

He can point back to the campaigns for the World Cup and the European finals which showed clearly enough how far you could travel with a sure understanding of what you had at your disposal. Sweden and Austria are the ones to overcome but they are not so formidable as to extinguish reasonable hope.


It wasn't superior talent, heaven knows. It wasn't the capacity to turn the game in one moment of sublime inspiration that got Trapattoni so far in his opening statements as Ireland's manager. It was a willingness to run and cover and fight and always take a look in the mirror when the job was done and then ask if you could have done a little more.

However it plays out, the Trapattoni era might just come to be seen as the time when Irish football learned to live in the real world. This, in recent years, has been the obligation of an England which not so long ago believed it had spawned a golden generation. This week in Warsaw we were reminded of the extent of that particular fantasy.

Ireland, plainly, has to submit to the same unforgiving process. Trapattoni may have to do something fiendishly difficult for a man who has reason to believe he is indeed an old master.

He has to come down from the high ground as much as he can -- without surrendering any of those truths about the game that have been so relentlessly pursued down the years.

He should also take the trouble to improve his communication. It is a little late to speak coherent English in a day but he could ensure some simple translation.

For his players there is another kind of challenge. It should be somewhat less daunting. They need to look around and see where they are. It is, still, in the hands of a man who will always know more than they could ever guess.

Irish Independent

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