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Old masters Trap and Ferguson prove value of experience

The Football Association of Ireland is right to send out a message of enduring belief in the fitness of Giovanni Trapattoni to make the best of the nation's international football resources.

They have tried, after all, extreme youth and inexperience in the unformed potential and non-existent track record of Steve Staunton and the less than compelling claims of middle-aged Brian Kerr.

At 71, Old Trap may seem to some like a football version of the Ancient Mariner, but then Jack Charlton wasn't exactly in the last flush of boyhood when his bulldozing self-belief guided Ireland to an unforgettable World Cup victory over Italy in New York. He was, for the record, pushing 60.

Crucially, it is as the FAI assert; a football man is as young as he feels and as a good his results. Trapattoni's recovery from some medical maintenance work in Italy, he insists is progressing soundly and he will be back on duty before the end of the month.


Given his achievements, and not least the fact that he might have been in a position to reproduce in the last World Cup finals some of Charlton's feats -- but for the illegal cynicism of Thierry Henry, this should be enough to head off an outbreak of ageism, not to mention ingratitude.

Trapattoni has, in the Irish cause, confirmed every working day the justification for hiring one of football's most effective operators.

There is nothing quite like the accumulation of hard knowledge about how you best marshal your ideas and resources in the matter of winning football matches.

At 69, Manchester United's Alex Ferguson is a monument to many things. They include extreme bias, an almost total failure to see the merits of any situation except from his perspective, and an intolerance of opposition that sometimes borders on the paranoid.

Also, by way of explanation for the fact that no football man on earth remains more secure in his tenure, there is his absolute refusal to see defeat as anything more than a fleeting impudence.

Nor is Fergie an isolated example of the cumulative power of experience and knowledge and an insatiable need to win.

At Stamford Bridge the previously brilliant, and relatively youthful, Carlo Ancelotti is fighting for his job, but everybody knows that he would probably still be back in Italy if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had been able to persuade Guus Hiddick to remain in charge after his brilliant intervention mid-way through the 2007-08 season.

Hiddink renovated Chelsea superbly and would have led them to the Champions League final, but for atrocious refereeing in the second leg of their semi-final with Barcelona.

Hiddink, now 64, is coaching Turkey, another staging post of a career in which he has always offered the most precious credentials of winning experience.

So why would the FAI be quick to jettison a man so plainly still filled with competitive vitality -- and basic commonsense -- as Trapattoni? Only, you have to say, because of some arbitrary lunge at an answer to the question of when a lifetime's experience becomes redundant simply because of the ticking of the clock.

It would be different if Il Vecchio 'the old man' -- was showing hints of metal or mental fatigue -- and if Ireland, after making such a serious, but ill-fated challenge for a place in South Africa last summer, were showing signs of regressing under his charge.

There is no such case to be made. Indeed, given Trapattoni's talent pool, it can be said that he continues to make the best of what is available to him in European qualifying, where group rivals Slovakia -- stunning conquerors of Italy last summer -- are making heavy weather, indeed, and the only Irish defeat has been to favourites Russia.

To consign Trapattoni to the slippers and the walking of the dog would be no more logical than some announcement from the Emirates Stadium that, because he is now pushing into his sixties, the role of Arsene Wenger had come under review. This would have been a particular absurdity yesterday, in the wake of Arsenal's game with Manchester City.

Wenger's young team were unable to break down the desperate defensive wall of the richest club in football, but it was a hollow success for Wenger's much younger rival Roberto Mancini.

The Italian justified his stultifying tactics with a sigh and the declaration that "sometimes the other team plays better than you and if that happens then you must not lose."

Wenger was no more capable of issuing such a phrase at 61 as he would have been 40 years earlier. Age, they say, is a state of mind. In football it is one that rarely compromises instinct or philosophy.


Whatever you think of those belonging to Gerard Houllier as he struggles with Aston Villa, the veteran Frenchman can also be called on behalf of the argument for Trapattoni.

He survived a serious heart attack at Liverpool, but returned to the action with undiminished self-confidence and later won the French league twice with Lyon.

However, there is no question about Exhibit A. It is surely the master of Old Trafford. Defiant, intransigent, he has survived what seemed compelling evidence that his United were in decline.

He emerged from the crisis of the Wayne Rooney affair as belligerent as ever. He continues to turn logic on his head whenever he sees the need.

As a consequence, Manchester United not only lead the Premier League, but give every indication that, however badly they play, they have quite forgotten how to lose.

Ferguson dismisses with contempt the idea that he might repeat an old mistake and decide that he can live without the furies of football.

"I don't anticipate retiring any time soon," he says. "Apart from anything else, what would I do with my time? I've been through this before and I don't think it would be any good for me"

Trapattoni sends the same emphatic message from his hospital recovery ward. One day, who knows, Trap and Ferguson may be proved wrong. However, who is brave enough to say they know when?

Irish Independent