Sport Soccer

Monday 20 May 2019

Shane Hegarty: Trapattoni has kept faith... and so should we

Shane Hegarty

Isn't it an awful nation of cantankerous sports aficionados we have become? First Donegal against the Dubs. Then the Boys in Green in Moscow. On both occasions it would be fair to say that the country got a satisfactory result, and yet there was uproar. Last Tuesday particularly jars, though. Nil-nil in the Luzhniki ... and we're complaining again about the performance?

Napoleon must be turning in his grave. Yeah, Napoleon. Now there was a man who knew how hard it can be to get something out of Russia. Bonaparte also knew a thing or two about was the need for fortune to go with the brave.

His famous quote about favouring a lucky general over a capable general could seldom have been more applicable than it is to Giovanni Trapattoni at present (of course, if Napoleon had Richard Dunne out in the field we'd now be calling Red Square 'Place Rouge').

Trapattoni is a great coach but his side looked utterly bedraggled against Russia in every regard except team spirit. Their commitment and dedication is remarkable. As is their inability to string three positive passes together.

TRAP WAY: Tenacious

So we bitch and whine and complain and demand change. And all the while Trapattoni sticks to his guns and steers us to within two winnable games of a play-off spot.

"I think St Patrick was looking down on us,” the Italian said after the 0-0 draw in Moscow, “the luck of the Irish." He said much with so few words. And yet again, as he has done throughout his career, Trapattoni wore his religion on his sleeve.

But has his faith - and its influence on his approach and stubborn adherence to a much-maligned and dated looking catenaccio - been underappreciated?

Trap is a devout Catholic. That much is well known. He was raised as such. One of his older sisters, Maria, entered the convent when she was 19. He often cites his religion. Indeed, during the 2002 World Cup Trapattoni caused quite a stir back in Italy when as Azzurri boss he carried a little bottle of holy water with him on the bench. Trapattoni is also an Opus Dei co-operater.

The latter is an intriguing fact (and not in a Da Vinci Code sense, people). The sanctification of ordinary work is one of the fundamental principles of Opus Dei and if ever a coach has sworn himself to the toil of mundane graft, it is surely Trapattoni with this Irish team.

Trap is well aware that the Irish public are simultaneously followers and non-believers of his doctrine. What choice do we have? With the country crying out for James McCarthy or Stephen Hunt in Moscow, Trap brought Simon Cox in first. Ireland are not even instructed to press the ball, merely sit back and endure, as if it would bring too much attention upon themselves.

It is, of course, in central midfield where Trapattoni takes the most heat for his conservative selections and strategy. His loyalty to two dutiful, ultra-conservative holding midfielders in Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews has the nation pulling its hair out.

But while we see red over yellow pack midfielders, it should be remembered that there are few football men with as great an appreciation of playmakers as Trapattoni. He spent the peak years of his playing career bodyguarding Gianni Rivera in AC Milan's midfield so Trap doesn't need to be told an orchestrator’s worth - he served alongside one of the finest that ever kicked a ball.

In his coaching career, too, Trapattoni’s penchant for a string-puller in the middle acres was marked - from Liam Brady and Michel Platini in his first spell at Juventus; then Lothar Matthäus at Inter Milan; Roberto Baggio in Trap's second fling with the Old Lady; a more withdrawn Matthäus again at Bayern Munich; and Rui Costa at Fiorentina - the 72-year-old has consistently accommodated and served a magician.

But one thing all of the above had in common was that they were reliable masters of their craft. They could be trusted emphatically. Teams were destined to be built around them.

In stark contrast, since Trap has taken charge of Ireland, Andy Reid has trickled from Sunderland to Blackpool to Nottingham Forest, while Stephen Ireland has pranced from being Manchester City's player of the year to a place on Aston Villa's bench. McCarthy, let’s be honest, is unproven.

Trapattoni, a man of considerable faith, does not have enough belief in his current players to give them responsibility, so he issues them orders. His belief is in the system, not its executioners. His devotion is to hard work, not style, even if he is a man with a refined taste in sharp suits.

The mention of religion is not to judge or label Trapattoni, nor infer that the old guy has substituted the holy water for a more discreet cilice. Nothing of the sort. Each to their own and all that.

However, with the hope of tactical change evaporating, there is a greater urge to understand his motives and commitment to a stagnant, belligerent 4-4-2. He will not change so maybe we should start appreciating Trapattoni’s method just as we soldiered along in Jack’s long ball Army.

Lest we forget, Trapattoni’s focus and mission is not exclusive to next summer. It’s as well for us that his holy grail also exists in material form. Just ask Denis O'Brien.

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