Monday 20 November 2017

The present is a beaten docket - our only hope now is to invest in future

John O'Brien

Debating Trapattoni's merits is a tiresome and pointless exercise, writes John O'Brien

So what should trouble us most now? The manner in which the FAI kept faith in a manager they appear to have grown weary of, or the fact that the same lavishly-decorated 73-year-old now seems to be taking instructions on how to do his job from a group of blazers? Now there's a truly scary thought.

It was a bracing week for those who believed the FAI had turned a corner and become a model of business savvy. As he was busy extracting apologies from all and sundry for being wrongly tagged as the "senior FAI source" leaking against Giovanni Trapattoni, did John Delaney express his disgust at such behaviour and promise a thorough investigation to identify the culprit? Nope. Not a word on that score.

It all left you with the uneasy thought that if FAI officials spent less time scouring the newspapers and airwaves for unflattering portrayals and more time devising new ways of improving the game at all levels here, they might not be in the mess in which they find themselves. To have a fussy and meticulous manager would be a bonus, particularly one commanding such an outrageous salary. But that's a pretty forlorn hope at this stage.

On Newstalk last week, John Giles spoke about Trapattoni "fulfilling his duties" by travelling to watch Irish players perform for their clubs in England. Giles was wrong about this, though. There's almost certainly nothing in the manager's contract about attending games or stipulations about how he should do his job and it seems pointless trying to convince him to do something if his heart doesn't lie in it.

What it should be is a passion. Remember Brian Kerr and the stories he would tell of attending two reserve games before heading off to watch a league game, establishing a vast network of contacts on his travels, maybe picking up word of a young Irish prospect or two as he went? Compare that to Trapattoni glibly asking reporters whether they knew any Irish players in America last week. He seemed to be only half joking.

Whatever qualities Kerr lacked, fundamentally he was sound.

Kerr understood the importance of taking a forensic approach to the job. He knew Irish football was an organic whole, that the senior manager needed to take an interest in all aspects of the game.

Does Trapattoni have anything more than a Big Jack-like indifference to what happens outside his own narrowly-defined domain? There's precious little evidence to suggest it.

Much of the debate about his performance is tiresome now. The results he has achieved can be spun to suit pretty much any agenda. But as much as Liam Brady flaps his arms around the RTE studio in despair, we are entitled to be firm in our judgement. When a manager is paid over three times the sum handed out as prize money in the domestic leagues, it seems entirely reasonable to have elaborate expectations, if not demands.

The defence of Trapattoni wears thin on so many levels, are we not already past the point where debate seems pointless? To hear him, as he often does, target players for poor performances after games serves only to harden the perception that he didn't think much of them when he took the job, that they were a rabble he would have to whip into shape in order to get to a finals. Is there not a self-fulfilling prophecy at work here? Give players the impression they are ordinary often enough and you'll soon convince them of it.

In a sense, we're all part of the problem here. Back in 2008, when Trapattoni was unveiled, we were so relieved to have got somebody who was the polar opposite of the discredited Steve Staunton that few faced the inescapable truth that paying €2m for a manager, as he cost at the time, was an insult to those working away at the coal-face of Irish football for a pittance or, in some cases, nothing at all.

Sadly, there isn't much good news here. Consider if FAI officials had got rid of Trapattoni, what then? Another crack team of experts to scour the globe looking for another blue-chip name to quell unrest among supporters? Another round of bizarre speculation, reporters camped daily outside Abbotstown, a new bookies' favourite popping up every week, any upwardly mobile manager with a reputation moving swiftly to distance himself from a job that few of them would want.

Cast a glance at the names that cropped up as possible replacements: Roy Keane, Harry Redknapp, Mick McCarthy, Rafa Benitez.

Are we going to pay these a king's ransom too? Go cap in hand to Denis O'Brien again? Paper over all the cracks again, pretend the good ole days might be just around the corner again.

Or maybe, for once, we'll get real. Listen to the genuine football men who saw the real problems in the game here while the FAI splurged so heavily on a part-time manager, have a thorough debate about implementing real change that might plant some hope for a better future.

Because it is the future that matters now. The present, sadly, is a beaten docket.

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