Friday 24 November 2017

Loyal to a fault or telling it like it is?

Brady’s unwavering support for Trap is causing a stir – VincentHoganweighs up the logic of his argument

The basic nobility of Liam Brady's willingness to become street-fighter for an old friend has long since subdued disquiet about his potential lack of impartiality as a TV pundit.

Brady, you sense, could only offend the viewer now by abandoning Giovanni Trapattoni. That won't happen and, if he is thus compromised as a public witness to the current state of our national soccer team, his overworked temper still lends authenticity to the bubbling debate.

Brady has worked both with and for 'Il Trap' and is, palpably, of the view that anyone who would (even metaphorically) kick the 73-year-old Italian would probably steal the candle money from a church.

On Tuesday night, he railed against the gathering presumption that Trapattoni's time with Ireland had reached the end of its natural cycle. "I'd be interested to see the reasons they'd give for giving him the sack," he declared, as the evening petered to a close in Torshavn without any blood on the walls.

So, how much of Brady's unwavering defence of the Italian is justified and how much might be categorised as blind loyalty?

WHERE BRADY IS RIGHT

"We will look ridiculous to the rest of the football world if we sack this man."

This is undeniable. Seen from a distance, Trapattoni's impact on Irish football has been universally positive. Post the 2002 World Cup, Ireland all but slipped off the radar in terms of major tournament recognition.

Under 'Il Trap', we pretty much became one of football's cause celebres when Thierry Henry picked our pockets in a qualifying play-off for the 2010 World Cup.

To an international audience, Trapattoni's achievement in coaching Ireland to beat a star-studded French team over 90 minutes in Stade de France must have seemed nothing short of miraculous.

To follow up that heartbreak in Paris by qualifying for this year's Euros will simply have copper-fastened his reputation in the eyes of an audience impervious to the mechanics of how Ireland play.

That the team lost all three games heavily in Poland probably served only to elevate the achievement of qualification in neutral eyes.

"The man's results stand up, even if he bores people to death. Because if you play well and get beat, you still get the sack."

This is true to a point. The aesthetic perspective largely only gets an airing when results are poor. Even if there has often been a sense that Trapattoni's greatest virtue as Ireland manager has been luck (drawing Estonia in the Euro play-offs is a case in point), achievement will always supersede entertainment in the demands of Irish supporters.

Getting the team to successive play-offs suggests, however unattractively at times, that Trap essentially did what he was hired to do.

"Things needed changing at the Euros. He could have started that process in the third game. He asked for trouble because of that. And he's getting a lot of it (trouble) now."

Brady is absolutely on the money here. With Ireland already out of the tournament, Trapattoni's refusal to shuffle his cards against Italy spoke of an obduracy that frustrated supporters and incensed certain squad members.

His argument that he needed to be respectful of the opposition simply did not hold water. Ireland had lost their first two games on 3-1 and 4-0 scorelines. The only "respectful" option was change.

WHERE BRADY IS WRONG

"We'd been in the wilderness for 10 years before he (Trapattoni) qualified us for Euro 2012."

If failure to reach major tournaments qualifies as "the wilderness," so be it. But it would be wrong to imply that Ireland became a virtual rabble in the six years between Mick McCarthy's departure and the arrival of 'Il Trap'.

Brian Kerr will surely forever be haunted by Avram Grant's Israel and the '06 World Cup qualifiers when he thinks back on his time as Irish boss.

With Roy Keane repatriated, the team looked to be cruising to a 1-0 victory in Tel Aviv only to concede a goal deep in injury-time.

They then led 2-0 less than half an hour into the return leg only to, inexplicably, concede two goals before half-time and then endure 45 of the most cynical minutes ever witnessed at Lansdowne Road.

To have won even one of those games, Ireland would have been guaranteed a place in the play-offs. To have won both, they'd have topped their six-team group ahead of France.

A year into Kerr's reign, Ireland were placed 12th in the FIFA rankings, their highest position since USA '94. Not quite "the wilderness."

"The guy knows what he's doing. We're on track."

No we're not. To be fair, Brady made that comment with Germany leading Sweden 4-0 in Berlin.

The Swedes' subsequent Houdini act means that Ireland's six points from three games does not now constitute being "on track" for second place in the group.

To get back on course, Ireland urgently need to inflict damage on the Swedes in Stockholm next March. A big ask.

"He could say: 'I brought them (Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson and James McCarthy) in at the right time!'"

No he couldn't. Ireland instantly look more assured now with two full-backs who are comfortable on the ball and willing to attack.

Similarly, a three-man midfield, with young McCarthy included, offers more to the team both defensively and offensively than the routinely over-run pairing of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews.

Accepting a desire to support his ill father, the suspicion lurks that McCarthy might have considered travelling to Poland if he thought his role would extend beyond being a glorified training cone.

Irish Independent

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