Friday 24 November 2017

Success down to squad's unity, not manager's input

Players must ignore Trapattoni circus and focus on qualifying, writes Richard Sadlier

There were times during my career when I knew to ignore the input of the boss. I'll keep it vague so as not to reveal his identity, but he managed to alienate himself from the entire dressing room in the latter stages of his time in charge.

This manager would talk to us after training about the upcoming game and nobody would listen. We would remain respectfully silent but took no notice of what was being said. His pre-match speeches were repetitive and uninspiring and his praise was never sought. None of us agreed with how he wanted us to play. The coach was of more use to us and it was to him that we went for guidance.

We looked to each other for support and encouragement. We were all driven to succeed individually, as you would expect, but the us-against-him divide that had been created was very effective in bringing us together as a squad. The good days we had, and there were very few of them at that time, were brought about by putting to one side everything we had heard from him during the previous week. Success was achieved in spite of his input, not as a result of it.

There is no way to know for sure how this Ireland squad views Giovanni Trapattoni but the performance in Sweden brought my mind back to that period of my career. I can only imagine what is being said in private among the players this week, but I know what I'd be thinking if I was there.

He selected Conor Sammon ahead of Kevin Doyle so you'd have reason to be concerned about his judgement. He thinks James McCarthy is not a creative player so you might doubt his assessment of opponents too. In speaking out the way he did about McCarthy you'd also have reason to think he lacked respect for the players.

In saying what he said about Stephen Kelly recently you'd certainly wonder whether to trust him to keep some things to himself. And if you thought that why would you approach him on anything? All in all, you'd be scratching your head in amazement that he's won what he's won in the past.

But more than all of that, you'd be wondering why the media is making such a big deal of behaviour which has been so consistent and so predictable for so long. And it would be a fair point too.

We know that preparations for games generally descend into some manner of chaos as a result of something he says or does. His selections are hard to fathom and his treatment of players is regularly out of order. Accept it, deal with it, there's a game to play. That's what I'd be thinking if I was in the squad right now, particularly given the importance of the result against Austria.

James McCarthy gave one of his best displays for Ireland on Friday and James McClean looked as good as he's looked for a long while. Wes Hoolahan finally appeared for his country in a competitive fixture and both full-backs were impressive again. All have genuine reasons to think less of the manager but they played their part in getting a very positive result.

There's real encouragement to be gained from imagining the players are no longer affected by Trapattoni's incomprehensible behaviour. I'd go so far as to say it's what hopes of qualification will hinge on.

Ireland have to win on Tuesday, which will require a more clinical performance in front of goal. Andreas Isaakson did not have a save to make on Friday which tells its own story. There may yet be some disruptions to the build-up but it's what the squad should have come to expect by now. Pointing out how things could and should be better seems a waste of time.

If there is a strong sense of unity in this squad it's hard to imagine Trapattoni played much of a role in creating it. Well, not intentionally anyway.

Many Ireland teams of the past benefitted from the inclusive approach of their manager and the relaxed atmosphere which that creates. Most former players point to morale and team spirit as the vital components of their success.

But Trapattoni has his way of working. Friday night's result means he will probably be around for some time so the new generation of players will have to adapt as the old ones did.

Irish Independent

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