Sport Soccer

Friday 23 February 2018

One-trick Trapattoni has taken Ireland as far as he can

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

We're all familiar with the phrase by now. To 'have a Macedonia' refers to a game of football in which you drop points to vastly inferior opponents in a very embarrassing manner. You may still dominate the game, but the three points remain beyond reach.

Russia now know how this feels.

Ireland never looked like scoring in Moscow (one shot on target), had no impact in midfield, couldn't keep the ball and were ripped apart with ease in defence. It was even worse than the performance in the Aviva Stadium against Russia, so let's not be hoodwinked by the result. Shay Given and Richard Dunne were excellent, but the clean sheet owed much more to the woeful finishing of the Russians in front of goal. In all, they had 26 attempts.

Following that 3-2 defeat to Russia in Dublin, Giovanni Trapattoni said he knew beforehand that his approach would not succeed. He didn't do anything about it though. You would assume after that experience he knew a change would be required if Ireland were to affect the game in any way in Moscow. Again, no change was made.

And as he watched on from the sidelines on Tuesday -- and let's not forget last Friday either -- not once did he tweak the system that was failing the players so badly.

Rarely has such a one-sided game finished in a draw. Ireland were completely and utterly outclassed.

Ignoring recent performances and results, Trapattoni has already achieved what he was brought in to do. Following the debacle of the Steve Staunton era he has transformed the squad into one that rarely loses games and concedes very few goals.

The players are approaching the final two games with qualification into the play-offs in their own hands, and could yet face a final-day fixture against Armenia knowing victory would win the group outright. After a week which saw the worst away performance in years follow one of the most disappointing home displays in a long time, it is very hard to understand how this has all come about.

The counter-argument to all of this is to suggest we are all a little deluded to expect more from this group of players. I mean, Ireland qualify so rarely for tournaments it seems a bit rich to start questioning the methods of one who has brought us so close. But Trapattoni has shown every card in his hand. He believes this squad to be capable of only one approach -- and a very basic one at that -- and refuses to contemplate alternatives even when the team is getting completely mauled as they were in Moscow or when they struggled so badly at home to Slovakia. For one hailed so often as a master tactician, he has concealed it very well since his appointment.

Despite their obvious individual talents, Ireland's attacking players just don't look like scoring, and the formation exposes the central midfield pairing every time. The ease with which Ireland were outplayed in both games last week was concerning, but the failure of the manager to either spot this or act on it was even worse.

He has had several rows with a number of players, many of which have been unnecessarily played out in public. He is far too open with the media on issues which should remain in the dressing room, and there are several players

angered by much of what he has said and done since his appointment. And I'm not only talking about Stephen Ireland or Andy Reid.

The debate as to whether he should have his contract extended should not be reduced to a simple case of qualification or not. As we all saw so clearly on Tuesday, results tell only part of the story in football. He has been in the job now for 38 games over 43 months. A very thorough appraisal of his job performance to date would suggest he does not have what it takes to take this group of players forward to the next stage of their development.

The foundations are in place though: the players are disciplined, organised in defence and hard to beat. But to progress further in any way, we need a man in charge capable of at least exploring the notion of a plan B. The future could indeed be bright for this Irish squad.

After this campaign is over, it would be a great deal brighter with someone else in charge.

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