The great Trapattoni debate
Ireland boss’ stubborn faith in defensive system and reluctance to blood young talent infuriates many. But he has got us to Euro 2012 – so does the end justify the means?
THE game may have finished level on Wednesday night but, increasingly, there is no middle ground when it comes to Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland. Amid the Euro 2012 excitement, a great debate lingers on.
Simon Cox's late equaliser against the Czech Republic extended this team's unbeaten run to 12 games, yet there was no fanfare about that.
In the aftermath of the Lansdowne Road encounter, the primary complaint is that while Ireland might be hard to beat, they remain pretty difficult to watch.
In truth, the reaction in certain quarters has been comparable to the understandable outrage in the wake of Steve Staunton's famous struggles with Cyprus and San Marino.
Trapattoni has steered Ireland to a first major tournament in 10 years, yet is still accused of being arrogant, foolish, and even amateurish.
From afar, observers feel that the Irish people should be grateful to the Italian for securing a Euro 2012 ticket.
In these parts, the discourse is different. Certain sections of the Irish football community are appalled by the team's style of play and the exclusion of some exciting players.
Others cannot understand why people are moaning when the 72-year-old has outperformed his immediate successors.
Rather than ending any discussion about the effectiveness of his methods, achieving qualification has merely increased the spotlight on several recurring themes.
Trapattoni is convinced that he knows what is best and pays little heed to the opinions of others. That could be perceived as arrogance to one person and self-assurance to another. You would expect a man who has won the Serie A title seven times, the European Cup, the UEFA Cup twice and the European Cup Winners' Cup to be confident in his own methods.
The counterpoint is that the majority of those successes came in the 1970s and 1980s, leading to the allegation that Trapattoni is yesterday's man, pushing a dated system. But his philosophy has taken Ireland to a major tournament in 2012.
On Tuesday, he spoke again about the group he inherited from Staunton, and watching videos of games where they poured forward with abandon and left gaps. He believes he has taken a flaky team with fragile confidence and turned them into a side that doesn't lose very often.
That's the perception around Europe, particularly in Trapattoni's native Italy. In that sense, the surety is hardly surprising. Call it arrogance if you like. Most successful people in football have that trait.
Trapattoni is bemused by the fact that every rising Irish star instantly becomes a cause celebre.
The rapturous welcome afforded to James McClean on Wednesday was similar to the response that greeted James McCarthy's arrival into the fray for the qualifying game with Macedonia last March. "I thought it was Maradona, Messi or Pele coming on," joked Trapattoni, when speaking about the crowd's response to McClean.
The punters would also liked to have seen Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy, but it wasn't to be. Over 30 Irish players have lined out in the Premier League this season; they can't all be involved. Frustrating as it may have been, this was the only get-together between the play-offs in November and this summer's gathering ahead of the finals.
From Trap's perspective, that means a chance to hone his existing system with a view to the three tests in June.
The public may want to see something radically different, but Trapattoni simply doesn't believe that his formula requires change; his priority was seeing the players who will likely figure in Poland.
It doesn't help when he says beforehand that certain players will definitely be involved and then leaves them sitting on the bench, but at least they're in the squad. Dropping long-standing members from the picture without a phone call is far more insulting.
The justification for his approach to qualifying was the endgame. The same standard can be applied to Euro 2012.
Trapattoni has lost just two competitive matches during his tenure in charge, but has tasted defeat in six friendly matches, including against Australia, Poland and Norway.
He says they took the lessons from those encounters into the fixtures that mattered.
Certainly, his strategy is unambitious, but it could just as easily be described as pragmatic.
Many international teams now operate with a 4-3-3 that morphs into a 4-5-1 when on the defensive. For Ireland to adopt that system, they'd have to figure out where to accommodate Robbie Keane.
Trapattoni has previously argued that Keane and Kevin Doyle are two of his strongest performers and stressed it would be hard to drop either of them. Ireland lack the kind of playmaker that is essential to make that formation tick.
Nevertheless, the decision to summon Paul Green ahead of McCarthy on Wednesday was baffling.
Liam Brady said in November that he wouldn't be surprised if the manager rolled some of the younger players out once the pressure to reach Euro 2012 was off.
This week was the prime opportunity to further McCarthy's education, particularly as Wigan manager Roberto Martinez now uses the 21-year-old in a deeper role. Leaving him on the bench for 90 minutes was a regressive step that is impossible to defend.
The manager won't see it that way. He wanted to take on a team who will have a similar approach to Croatia on June 10, and his view is that he can only find flaws in his gameplan for that showdown by practising it.
Yesterday, he acknowledged that elements of the performance were below par, and warned his players that the Croats, Spain and Italy will move the ball at a much higher tempo.
Trapattoni's methods are built around shape and discipline, positioning and concentration. He thinks that bringing in newcomers would have disrupted those essentials.
And this is the cul de sac that every debate about the Irish boss wanders down.
There is a constant call for the manager to make changes that go against everything he stands for. It is simply not going to happen.