Sunday 18 February 2018

The short goodbye as FAI act swiftly

Delaney admits that losing faith of the paying public was final nail in Italian's coffin

FAI chief executive John Delaney celebrates with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni after Ireland's first leg victory over Estonia in the Euro 2012 play-off
FAI chief executive John Delaney celebrates with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni after Ireland's first leg victory over Estonia in the Euro 2012 play-off
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"HE delivered more than he didn't deliver," said John Delaney as discussion of Giovanni Trapattoni's future became a debate on his legacy in the space of a few short hours.

The end came sooner than anticipated with the FAI, who retained the Italian last October on the basis that Ireland still had a chance of making Brazil, moving as soon as that door closed. This was the short goodbye.

On his round of radio appearances in the hours after the news broke, Delaney made clear the ultimate reason why the 74-year-old has been shown the door. It is borne from the feeling that the paying public had lost faith in this regime and what the FAI needs right now is a public that is willing to pay.

Common sense

"We prefer a packed Aviva than one that isn't, that's common sense to everybody," he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

"What we want is an Irish team qualifying for major tournaments, that's what we want and we want the stadium full. They are simple things that the association wants to deliver and, over the next week or so, we've got to look at the course and the process as to how we get a manager to achieve both."

From afar, you suspect that Trapattoni will still watch with interest, possibly in a different brief as he fully expects to stay in the game.

Even on Tuesday night, minutes before he was told there would be a meeting the following day on his future, he hammered home his belief that no other manager could do better with the players at his disposal, quipping that he would fly back to watch if his successor was capable of unearthing five better players.

The suggestion that the two primary aims are 'simple things' would doubtless amuse the Italian.

Delaney repeatedly argued that the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams will make qualifying for 2016 easier, although Ireland will still require some luck from next February's draw considering they will be third seeds.

Trapattoni has barely disguised his belief that the current squad are so limited that nothing can be taken for granted and strangely enough, it appeared to be backed by some players who feel that expectations are too high.

"It's difficult for us because we keep getting branded with the same 'youse aren't good enough, youse are this and that,' but, yet, we're expected to qualify for every tournament," said Richard Dunne.

"The media should be saying, Austria, most of their players play in the Bundesliga. As a country, it has twice the population of Ireland. That puts it all into perspective."

Footballers like to be the underdog sometimes, of course. The counter-argument was provided by Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz last week, who observed that Ireland's ability to select from a large enough pool of Premier League players was the envy of many countries; he was mystified that his old West Ham colleague Joey O'Brien couldn't get a look in.

Reflection on the Trapattoni era ultimately comes down to the interpretation of expectations. There's a glass half-full and glass half-empty for the central features.

On one hand, he brought us to the Euros for the first time in 24 years. On the other, he benefited from a soft play-off draw. He made the team a formidable prospect away from home, with Tuesday the first defeat, but they were impotent at home when it mattered.

Until Austria, he had never lost to a lower-seeded team, yet he never secured a competitive success over higher-seeded opposition; the 26 wins in his 64 matches either came against small fry or in friendlies, with a pair of triumphs over Armenia the stand-out and they spent the majority of the Dublin meeting with 10 men.

He improved our ranking from the mid-40s, but taking zero points from a possible six this week could see Ireland drop back.

He brought strength of organisation and attention to the little detail, but was unable to concoct a strategy to close out a lead or turn draws into wins.

Robbie Keane took up the latter point pre-Vienna, stressing that Ireland never had a Plan B or a different way of playing, a point Delaney disputes.

"During the World Cup in 2002, you go back to the Mick McCarthy era, there was a great style of football played," said the FAI CEO.

"I was at the game; we played Spain off the park in the last 16 of the World Cup. We do have footballers who can play football, there's no question about that."

The new man will be expected to rectify that by providing entertainment in Dublin 4 again. He will also have to don his diplomatic hat to ascertain which disenfranchised footballers wish to come back into the fold. Going to games on a weekly basis will help.

Darron Gibson is hardly an innocent victim, but he is a top-half Premier League player and his services are needed. The cases of Stephen Ireland and Andy Reid are slightly more complicated, but there could be room for them too if they so desire.

With a good Champions League campaign, Anthony Stokes can come into the frame, offering something different to Trap's tried and trusted. And then there are the youngsters who have to prove they can thrive in a regime that allows them to breathe. "There are good young players," stressed Delaney, "The Colemans, the Wilsons, the Longs, the McCarthys, they are all good players who want to get to a major tournament."

It would be a more straightforward task if there were two of each, but it will be fascinating to watch it play out. There are deep structural problems in Irish football that need to be resolved, but a senior team to aspire towards can serve as a catalyst.

"It's a results business," stressed Delaney. Next time around, however, the manager will have to aspire to more than that.

Irish Independent

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