Friday 24 November 2017

The Trap I knew... It will be a quieter beat without him

Daniel McDonnell was at all of Giovanni Trapattoni's 64 games in charge and says the Italian and his endearing qualities won't be forgotten

Press conferences were rarely dull with Giovanni Trapattoni and his translator Manuela Spinelli
Press conferences were rarely dull with Giovanni Trapattoni and his translator Manuela Spinelli
Giovanni Trapattoni in various poses over the years
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WE'LL miss him you know. That may sound strange, considering that the media treatment of Giovanni Trapattoni was a consistent talking point on the slow march towards the inevitable end.

We will miss him, ultimately, because he shrugged off every slight without a care in the world. He understood the circus; it was a softer, quirkier version of what he'd experienced before.

Late on Tuesday night, as he finished his press conference in Vienna, he was asked if he feared a life without football.

"I am not good at writing because I make many mistakes," he joked. "But I can also write sport. And television is easy. Television is opinions."

He is the master of surveying a room packed with unhealthy hacks and charmingly disguising his contempt for our opinions. "I know your jobs," he would say, repeatedly. "Polemica, polemica, the headlines, Trapattoni this, Trapattoni that." From his perspective, we were children who were there to be educated.

Last Saturday, he snapped at one critic. "You are young," he observed. "I'm 50," came the response.

This was a man who had experienced the extreme of highs and lows, winning every major honour in the club sphere and then suffering crushing humiliation when he failed at successive major tournaments as manager of Italy, eventually leaving under a cloud. Ten to 15 Irish lads sitting in a converted dressing room in Malahide? He wasn't going to lose sleep over their outrage.

Indeed, you sensed that he was semi-amused by it, the persistent questions about the latest cause celebre, be it Andy Reid, James McClean or Wes Hoolahan. Even Lee Carsley.

"I continue to follow Carsley," he'd say, years after the midfield stalwart had retired. Marco Tardelli's temper was shorter, exasperated by the line of questioning to the point where he couldn't help but interrupt from his back-row berth. "Always Hoolahan," the assistant would sigh, shaking his head when post-match discussions were dominated by the unused substitute.

Trapattoni's angry bursts were brief; there was never a reprise of the famous Bayern Munich YouTube rant that went viral again upon his appointment. The spate of withdrawals from the 2011 summer camp led to a memorable series of lectures on the virtues of respect and Shane Long was also on the receiving end post-Serbia, but he still stayed to the end, answering every query rather than storming out.

The training camp in Montecatini pre-Poland was the happiest time of his reign. He loved being back on his own patch, reminding people there was life in the old dog yet.

Standstill

A series of functions brought the town to a standstill as he was afforded papal status with the frenzy entering the realms of tragi-comedy when the scrum of security and well-wishers at a civic reception in the main square spilled out onto the road, interrupting a half marathon that was in full flow. Chaos ensued as irate runners, feverishly checking their stopwatches, failed to escape the maze.

From that point, results didn't give him too much to smile about and his relationship with the FAI soured. Through it all, he managed to keep a lid on his annoyance, particularly in the Faroes where he rode out the storm. There was nothing shameless about how he handled that episode.

That week, his English was good when it mattered. It was the exception from the norm. His attempts to grasp the language frequently led to hilarity; Trappish was a headache accompanied with a smile. There were laughs aplenty, some intentional, many accidental. Metaphors went askew.

Richard Dunne was the wardrobe, Stephen Ireland the hedgehog, Keith Fahey became Keith F**king, his wingers were christened as swingers – he loved the innuendo of that faux pas and called them 'swingers' for several months after – and his open policy of naming his starting XI the day before each game sometimes veered off course when he selected 12 players.

There were other endearing idiosyncrasies. Every time a new reporter joined the small core of regulars, he was convinced they were working for the opposition. "Are you Bulgarian?" he asked one. "Tipperary," came the response. Female supporters and sponsors were always given a special greeting.

He was smooth in his own way; few men of his age would have the confidence to rock up to a press gig in a denim suit. But he was fundamentally decent too, unfailingly polite and patient when he agreed to make a series of public appearances in the lap of honour following qualification for the Euros.

We were all a little surprised when he agreed to turn up at an Irish Independent Christmas lunch, where he quietly told his waitress to take back his substantial turkey and ham helping and return with a smaller portion; the pragmatist didn't want anything to go to waste.

At the annual Soccer Writers' soiree he was energised by the table quiz, unsurprising given there was a fair chance he could somehow have a link to each one of the questions. He loved an anecdote, even if he regularly repeated the same ones.

There was only so many times he could point out that he'd managed Platini and Boniek, or played against Pele and Eusebio, but while it was repetitive, there were tales which made us step back from arguing the toss on the merits of Conor Sammon and Andy Keogh and remember that the man at the top of the room was football royalty.

We didn't see the best of his management and the games will quickly fade from the memory, but we'll never forget the man. It'll be a quieter beat without him.

Irish Independent

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