No escaping exit door for defiant Trap
O'Neill and McCarthy in mix to take reins as FAI prepare to wield axe
AT the beginning of the third phase of his debrief press conference on Saturday, Giovanni Trapattoni temporarily replaced defiance with acceptance.
The day after the game, discussions are structured to give the respective media groups a chance to have their say. First, the TV and radio men asked the manager about his future in the wake of Friday's reverse at the hands of Sweden.
Then it was the turn of the Sunday newspapers, with some testy exchanges as the Italian again defended his record and challenged one reporter to give him a call two games into his successor's reign and tell him if he is doing any better with the available players.
But by the time it came around to the last group, a gathering of eight daily paper reporters, Trapattoni adopted a more reflective tone as his demeanour visibly changed. "Emotional," as one watching FAI official later described it.
For the first time, he properly acknowledged that his time as Irish manager is drawing to a close whether he likes it or not. If the door to the World Cup is closed after tomorrow's clash with Austria then the tap on the shoulder could come as soon as this week.
The prompt which led the manager to accept the inevitable was a reference to the fact that his long-term friend and former assistant Liam Brady had stated on Friday that Trapattoni had to pay the price and already knew his fate.
"I don't expect, after this campaign, to go up again (with Ireland) in the future. Sure, no," he replied, accepting the premise before listing his achievements as though it was a retirement speech.
"After five years, I think we have achieved a good result. We change the team, we improve ranking, we move on players and discover many others. In France, the first time you know, we deserved to go through.
"Then we achieved qualification (for Poland). Now, maybe, third position could be a good result for us. I thought until Friday we could also qualify and if we did achieve that result then, after Brazil, sure, I don't think about continuing."
In other words, he never really expected to be kept on for a fourth campaign even if both he and his assistant Marco Tardelli believe that the FAI should be begging them to stick around for the Euro 2016 charge.
Barring a shock result in Kazakhstan and an Irish win in Vienna, with Trapattoni still confident of the latter, the post-mortem is set to revolve around issues of timing.
Specifically, if change comes now, or after the double-header with Germany and the Kazakhstanis next month. It was put to Trapattoni if he would move aside if qualification was gone, thus giving his successor more time to prepare.
"If a new manager is available, that's a problem from the FAI," he said, essentially stressing that he could see the logic but they would have to make the call.
His later confirmation that his contract runs to next June means the association would have to weigh up a pay-off package for Trapattoni, Marco Tardelli and fitness coach Fausto Rossi. The bill could be a figure in the region of €1m if they looked for the full amount in negotiations.
Trapattoni is aware that the process of finding a new man can also be complicated. "Each manager is engaged with a club," he said, although this comment does not apply to Martin O'Neill, who is believed to be the preference.
Mick McCarthy would be popular within FAI circles, but compensation would be due to Ipswich as a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free has expired.
Not that Trapattoni will be too bothered about the identity of the next man. He remains firm in his conviction that his replacement will struggle to do much better with this group of players.
While he feels they were below par in the second half on Friday, and Tardelli did concede yesterday that the team was more direct than they should have been, Trapattoni has given the impression that the limitations which were revealed say more about the squad than it does about him.
He was desperate to make next summer's jamboree in Brazil and, in the midst of his ruminations, floated the prospect that he might even end up there with another nation, although it was more of an afterthought than a declaration.
Whatever happens, retirement is not on his agenda and he expects to pitch up somewhere else, pointing out that he had offers around the time of the Euros. "I am not God," he said, but he clearly believes he will rise again.
"I had many opportunities with other countries, more famous," he continued. "But I believe in this group, this evolution, this new group.
"There is disappointment (if Ireland don't make Brazil) but there is also a willingness to continue. Maybe I will have the opportunity to go with other teams – if not Irish, maybe another. Why not?"
He is proud of his globetrotting, pointing out that the only manager with a superior record to him in the past 25 years is Alex Ferguson and he didn't win titles in four countries with five different teams. "Could he have done that?" he asked, without waiting for an answer.
Generally, but not exclusively, he has left clubs on his own terms, and he would like to have the same power in this job. On Saturday, though, he gave the impression that it's slipped out of his grasp. Post Faroes, he toughed it out but almost a year further into his contract, he anticipates a different ending.
A journey that started in Austria, where he first met the FAI's interview panel of Ray Houghton, Don Givens and Don Howe, could effectively end there tomorrow night if the maths say that a miracle next month is out of the question.
All that remains to be decided is the cost of the handshake.