the real il Trap
It was an image that stood out in Italy's otherwise unremarkable campaign in the 2002 World Cup. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni was filmed removing a small bottle from his pocket and sprinkling holy water on the pitch and subs bench prior to Italy's games.
For those familiar with Ireland's new manager, it was a move very much in keeping with his deep Catholic faith.
The veteran coach remains a frequent visitor to the Regina Pacis church in his small hometown of Cusano Milanino near Milan. "He's a common presence here," says Trapattoni's local priest, Don Walter. "It's normal to see him at Mass on the weekends when he comes home. He's very religious and practises his faith, but he's also a private man. He comes often here to the church to speak to the boys. He's a dynamic, fair and positive person who has a great impact on young people."
He is also a member of Opus Dei -- the Catholic organisation whose followers aim to lead their lives under strict moral guidelines. In particular, Trapattoni is an admirer of Josemaria Escriva, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
He once said: "Josemaria Escriva has taught many athletes that their efforts in training and in competition, their companionship with team-mates, their esteem for their opponents, their humility in victory and good spirits in defeat, are a specific path for reaching God and serving others."
Born into a working-class family on St Patrick's Day in 1939, Trapattoni grew up poor. His father died young, and for many years Trapattoni believed he would suffer a similar fate. He has claimed the deprivations he suffered as a youngster provided la chiave (the key) to his success in later life.
Locals in Cusano Milanino say the man they call 'il Trap', always puts his family "in first place". His children, Alessandra and Alberto, still live in the town, where Trapattoni is known as a doting grandfather to Alessandra's two little girls.
He met his wife, Paola, in Rome during the 1960 Olympics. Signora Trapattoni is herself a formidable character: Italian sports reporters have made it clear that the decision to accept the Ireland job was not taken by Trapattoni alone. She is understood to have prevented her husband from entertaining proposals from English clubs, arguing that it was time for them to stop moving around. Trapattoni has said managing a national team will allow him to spend more time with his family.
Along with football, family is the dearest thing to Trapattoni. "Family for me is sacred. They have always been my refuge both in moments of joy and above all delusion. Indirectly they have also helped me with success. Periods that I was away with work I knew that my wife was at home looking after the care of the children. This made me happy and it helped me to take on the challenge of my job calmly and serenely."
Shunning the sort of plush office common to other top-notch managers, Trapattoni prefers to conduct his business from an office in a garage on the outskirts of Milan. The garage, owned by a friend, is in the city's industrial quarter and a far cry from the glamorous shopping and dining districts where the millionaire footballers of Milan's two clubs like to hang out.
Soccer physiotherapist Valerio Remino worked for Trapattoni for nine years. Photographs of il Trap in his prime, posing proudly with successful Juventus squads, now cover the walls of Remino's Turin clinic. He tells his favourite story about Trapattoni: "The Juventus team bus carrying Trapattoni and the players once stopped at a road-side cafe. There were lots of lorry drivers there and they began to criticise Trapattoni, saying his team played too defensively and scored too few goals.
"But after 10 minutes of discussion with the lorry drivers, Trapattoni changed their opinion. Afterwards they all applauded him, shouting, 'Bravo Trapattoni, you're the best! You're doing a good job!'"
Remino believes Trapattoni will have no trouble fitting into Irish culture. "He is a man of the world. He can adapt to any nation, any people, any custom, any type of cooking!" Italian restaurants in Dublin will be competing for the business of Trapattoni and his entourage. His current favourite place to eat is Angelino's in Turin.
He loves classical music, particularly Beethoven, and is an opera buff. His music library of 3,000 CDs is testament to his love of music.
As the years have passed, long-time Trapattoni observers have seen a generation gap opening up between the ageing coach and his young players.
Marco Ansaldo, football journalist with the Turin-based national newspaper La Stampa, first met Trapattoni back in 1978. "I've seen him changing. Obviously in the Seventies he was a man in his thirties with players of 26, 27, 28. Now he is a man of close to 70 with players of 22, 23, 24. He could be their grandfather. In the relationship with players this might be not a good thing, in my opinion. Time is a bad animal for everybody, and also for him."
Ansaldo says il Trap has never been one to run away from a microphone. "Obviously for us, for journalists, he was always a great person because he always speaks. His character will be very similar to the character, the idea, of an Irish man that we have in Europe. A man with a great soul, with good spirit, able to tell funny stories." The Italians joke that Trapattoni speaks his own language: 'Trapattoniano'.
But when he tackles other European tongues, things get even funnier. In 1998, he enthusiastically butchered the German language when he attempted to express his disgust at the performance of Bayern Munich. "Weak like an empty bottle" was the rough translation. The rant is currently on YouTube and has been much watched since speculation first arose linking Trapattoni with the Ireland job.
Italians enjoyed the stir caused by Fabio Capello taking the job of England coach. But they find the more likeable Trapattoni's move to Ireland even more fascinating. They admire the 68-year-old's enduring passion for the beautiful game.
He is so dedicated to the sport that he has said he would like to die on the pitch. "I want to stay in the dugout forever, even if in life only three things are certain; you are born, you grow up and then you die -- but in the meantime we do what we enjoy. For someone like me who loves football and who has never been betrayed by the game, it would be the most beautiful thing to die in the dugout during a game.
"But for my wife Paola it would be terrible to see me like that -- she would have a go at me for not being aware of the risks and dangers involved."
One Italian newspaper claimed that "the scent of the grass pitch and the adrenalin of the games" are vital for Trapattoni: without them, he might finally grow old.
But for a man who will be 70 by the time Italy come to Croke Park on April Fool's Day, 2009, the prospect of retirement is likely to be far from his mind.
"It's nice to think that someday there is a pension, but I am happy to carry on working and achieving goals."
For the latest on Trapattoni, see Sport.