Saturday 24 February 2018

Manager's eccentric cajolings sorely missed as Argentina mute the Lansdowne roar

David Kelly At the aviva stadium

In the early hours of Tuesday morning in the capital city, the movement of two entirely different vehicles through the sleepy streets indicated that this friendly match was a truly significant occasion.

For the FAI, the 2am arrival from the Far East of the world's greatest living footballer, Lionel Messi, whisked discreetly from the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport to his team's Carton House base in Kildare, reflected the prestige of the guest list summoned to this grand event.

With Argentina secured, with as prohibitive a price as that which had lured Manchester United here last week, Messi's willingness to haul himself across several time zones may have reflected more the finer points of his FA's contract with their Irish counterparts, as distinct from his eagerness to test himself on either Colin Montgomerie's or Mark O'Meara's stunning Maynooth layouts.

As Messi was speeding west, another car had earlier been dispatched hurriedly from Ireland's Portmarnock base on the short journey south-west towards the Mater Private Hospital, depositing the poorly national manager Giovanni Trapattoni to their expert care. So no, this would not be an ordinary evening.

Even setting aside factors which of themselves would house a veritable feast of conjecture -- Robbie Keane's century, Shay Given's mid-30s club crisis, the looming shadow of the absent El Diegito -- intrigue abounded with consequences extending far beyond the base elements of last night's fare.

The series of ever-accelerating bulletins yesterday as to the vagaries of Trapattoni's health had transformed a tale of crustaceous complexity into something which could yet have far-reaching significance.

His assistant Marco Tardelli had scored against Argentina in the 1982 World Cup finals but this test against La Albiceleste would demonstrate if his inextricable link to his veteran Italian colleague wouldn't obviate any individual managerial traits.

"I don't know what the future holds but I like to be a coach and to train," Tardelli told us last year. "Maybe it will be here ... it's not important where it is but it is my life."

Touted by Liam Brady -- whose own health problems played a not insignificant part in curtailing his international involvement -- as a future manager, Tardelli has as lately as this week reined in that ambition.

This was still Trapattoni's team -- he had made the significant decision to exclude Darron Gibson during his hospitalisation; but how could his men react without his eccentric cajolings from the sideline?

The initial evidence was unfavourable. Keane and infant son Robert Jnr had hogged the pre-match limelight; Argentina then hogged the ball.

Messi was the touchpaper, willingly backboned by Fernando Gago and Ever Banega in midfield, with the quarterback Javier Mascherano firing long-range missiles at will. Like their unfortunate manager, Ireland couldn't find their sea legs amidst the maelstrom of wondrous Argentinean interplay.

Steven Gerrard had propelled Joe Cole ahead of Messi during the week; the Liverpool skipper's mind must have been force-fed Phil Collins again to ruminate so risibly.

The little jewel roamed at will, clearly snubbing the boredom entailed in spending his sojourn mocking Kevin Kilbane; is the Irish team sheet now pre-printed with 10 blank names alongside the name of the aforementioned?

Ironically, Ireland were undone by what must now seem a globally institutionalised refereeing witch hunt. Clearly forgetting the Phoenix Park maxim that you can't be offside from a goal-kick, Ireland witlessly isolate Gonzalo Higuain in acres of turf.

Joe Duffy's 'Liveline' is already open before Higuain, quite legally, touches the ball on to Angel di Maria who, in a position of marginal illegality, lobs beautifully home past a stranded Given, by now already leading a fuming posse towards the assistant referee.

Michel Platini's subsequent appearance on a big screen -- a quick phone poll revealed he attracted as many boos as John Delaney -- was not exactly conducive to ameliorating the condition of the vexatious Irish. Or the convalescing Trapattoni spitting fury at his hospital TV.

We missed the wildly gesticulating Italian on the sideline, as the Lansdowne Roar was rendered as mute as Carlos Tevez, sadly absent with a sore throat. Ireland's only profit was through long balls neatly headed backwards by Cillian Sheridan.

Their tackling was non-existent, their retention of ball slipshod, the trickle of possession towards the anonymous captain as pitiful as the sale of Vantage Club tickets.

At half-time, Tardelli was now faced, as he had been before the game, with the task of wheedling something better from his troops, with neither Trapattoni nor Brady there to guide him.

The conundrum was much more complex than that mathematical problem solved during the week, supposedly one of the most difficult in history, but in reality about as intractable as long division.

P v NP? In football, that translates as possession versus no possession. Nobel Prize winners would struggle to crack that formula, never mind Paul McShane.

Ireland would emerge with more tigerish verve: a dose of Andrews may not have been enough to restore Trapattoni this week but the midfielder's snappy tackling resuscitated a vestige of contest.

Ireland eventually located the opposition's penalty area and Keane was vaguely threatening.

The revival was illusory. Latin superiority ensured that certainty held sway.

For everyone else of an Irish hue, however, uncertainty will continue to prevail. Perhaps the strong, characteristically doughty finish of Trapattoni's side can prove portentous.

Irish Independent

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