Tuesday 20 February 2018

Success ends all arguments about style and method

Giovanni Trapattoni's results-driven ethos has earned a reappraisal from Richard Sadlier in the light of Ireland's qualification

Ireland's success in last week's play-off was achieved under immense pressure. The senior players knew it would be their last chance to play in the finals of a European Championships. But for the manager, failure would have put him out of a job.

Giovanni Trapattoni deserves an offer of a new contract. Whether Denis O'Brien is in a position to contribute again is yet to be established, but the FAI has no need to contemplate a replacement.

Regular readers will see that as quite a u-turn on my behalf, but the case against Trapattoni, based on a lot of what has happened on and off the field throughout the campaign, has been torn apart by last week's results. He has said consistently that he is focused solely on results, and nothing more. Qualification has now created a context in which his every comment, decision and action of the entire campaign is now fully justifiable. It doesn't eradicate the memory of the more concerning moments of the campaign, but it completely changes how they are interpreted.

There were occasions during the group games when there appeared little justification for having only one, predictable approach. No matter who they were up against, the system didn't alter. I could see no sense in Trapattoni publicly commenting on some players in the way he did.

I thought it caused avoidable friction and informed the public on issues which are best kept private. I couldn't understand why he opted against going to games in England. And there seemed to be a stubbornness in squad selection at times, with non-footballing reasons clearly behind some exclusions.

There was a time when I honestly believed qualification shouldn't automatically mean he stays on. I couldn't see the link between his own methods of management and the advantageous position Ireland held in the group standings along the way. But only with qualification did some things become obvious, at least to a critic like me who may have been focusing on other aspects of his management. It was Trapattoni's ruthless treatment of certain players that inspired devotion and commitment from everyone else. And that ultimately made the difference in the end.

Watching the team and staff walk around the Aviva pitch taking plaudits from the fans on Tuesday night rubbished all those criticisms. Trapattoni's selections are now viewed as loyalty to those who have proven themselves good enough. The refusal to entertain the notion of a Plan B, or to entertain at all, has been fully vindicated.

There were times when I struggled to imagine there wasn't any other available coach who could add to everything Trapattoni has instilled in this squad and develop it further, but he has achieved precisely what he set out to achieve. Qualification for major tournaments doesn't happen too often for Ireland, so questioning the manner in which it was achieved would be absurd. There is just no case against him staying on anymore.

Qualification provides the nation with a bandwagon upon which everyone has now enthusiastically jumped. I couldn't give tickets away for some of the group games, but was hounded last week by the very same people who turned their noses up in the past.

Funny how a team so criticised for lacking in entertainment provided so much to so many last week. The football on show was the same, but there were many reasons other than the football to attend. Never before has an Ireland team secured qualification in front of a home crowd.

Fair enough, you could argue the job was all but completed in Talinn, but the scenes of celebration and the lap of honour have never taken place in Dublin before. The feeling of relief and elation among everyone present was palpable. And the overwhelming sense was that it was only just the beginning.

Nobody I spoke to afterwards was interested in discussing the game, nor was I. Like everything that happened along the way, all of it has now been forgotten. There was even no room for pontificating how the team would perform in the summer, the only thing that mattered was that they would be there. And that allows so many of the rest of us to enjoy ourselves in a way we have not done in ten years. And when you consider how shite it's become to live here, that's an extraordinary feat.

Qualification has provided us with everything the recent presidential candidates had promised, but not one could have possibly delivered -- hope, joy, national pride on the international stage, and the timeliest of distractions from a plight which will only worsen after the upcoming budget. By any standard, that's a job very well done.

Trapattoni will soon extend his deal with the FAI, recognition for achieving what seemed so unlikely at times over the past 16 months. I struggled to understand how his approach contributed to some of the results along the way, but only one variable matters in assessing a results-focused approach. The concerns of the past have not been forgotten, they've just become irrelevant. Focusing on them any longer would miss the point entirely.


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