Saturday 16 December 2017

Time for the FAI to play hardball and call Trapattoni's bluff over exorbitant salary demands

Qualification should not guarantee the Irish manager a new gold-plated contract, says John O'Brien

John O'Brien

Before the last World Cup the Argentinian daily newspaper, Olé, published a list of the 32 managers involved and their respective salaries. Ireland didn't make it to South Africa, of course, but it was still interesting to observe that, had they done so, Giovanni Trapattoni would have come in at an eye-catching fifth on the table, narrowly behind Joachim Low who led a young Germany team into third place.

Or to put it another way. What had Spain's Vincent del Bosque, Holland's Berter van Marwijk, France's Raymond Domenech and Carlos Queiroz of Portugal got in common?

Well, for one thing none of them commanded as high a salary as the veteran Italian. Domenech, in fact, had to make do with little more than €500,000 a year.

Does this not beg a serious question? Domenech's successor, Laurent Blanc, reputedly earns in the region of €1m per year and, if that is the value a football superpower like France places on its top coaching position, is it right that Ireland should shell out almost twice that in order to find a candidate? Does qualification for the big party next summer settle all arguments? At the very least shouldn't we be having a discussion?

What we know is that, over the coming weeks, Trapattoni will sit down with FAI officials and sign a contract extension that won't deviate markedly from the €1.7m he currently earns.

Yet in all the time that has passed before a deal can be concluded and in the Italian's palpable irritation that, like Brian Kerr, he was kept "dangling" until qualification was assured, you sense that for the FAI the prospect of retaining the manager wasn't entirely without caveats.

It's not that they don't rate him; more a question of cost. Even with Denis O'Brien picking up half the tab, Trapattoni still comes at a price of just short of €1m a year and that is a bracing figure when you consider the job Morten Olsen has done for Denmark on €350,000 a year or the wonders Slaven Bilic has worked for Croatia on a mere €200,000. What makes us think we should be aiming higher than that?

Four years ago, it might have made some crazy kind of sense. The FAI were desperate for a big-name manager and, in a climate where Irish property barons were annexing the globe, splashing out €2m didn't seem all that outlandish.

Add not one but two assistants at another €1m. What of it? If it didn't work out, then the anticipated windfall from the new stadium would cushion the blow. Either way, the FAI would be alright.

So how do you justify such a splurge now? Perhaps it is enough that Ireland have qualified for Euro 2012 and lost only two competitive games under Trapattoni's leadership. Or maybe for €1.7m that is the minimum you would expect. John Delaney spoke about the work Trapattoni had done with the grassroots and managed to say it with a straight face. Beyond contractual obligations, the Italian doesn't concern himself with what goes on outside his remit of the senior side.

Ultimately, this isn't about Trapattoni's reputation. Nor even his achievements as Ireland manager. While he is perfectly entitled to seek the best deal he can get, the FAI are equally entitled to play hardball during negotiations. Trapattoni has dropped several hints that other job offers might be available, so why not call his bluff? This shouldn't be about holding onto a manager at all costs. It is a question of what the FAI can afford.

We shouldn't forget that any deal will be concluded against a backdrop of people losing their jobs in Abbotstown.

And if one appointment eats up so much of the budget, does it not follow that it becomes harder to find the best candidates for other positions? These jobs are critical too. Developing a pathway where young, ambitious coaches can be groomed as future senior managers -- as happened with Kerr -- is what any association with a sound technical plan should be about.

It's a British football disease, of course. For steering Northern Ireland to 84th in the FIFA rankings, Nigel Worthington was deemed worth an annual salary in the region of €580,000. Crazy. In paying a manager they don't like a few shillings short of €10m England are the laughing stock of the football world. Next year the FA will finally complete its coach education centre in Burton, a mere couple of decades behind their

major European rivals.

Here, it is good that more coaches than ever are taking their UEFA badges but the truth is we still trail those who lag behind. Why is it, for instance, that when the North look for a manager, a handful of former internationals can be put forward as plausible candidates? Why can Irish rugby throw up two accomplished home-grown coaches when the best football could offer was Steve Staunton? Why can Armagh nurture almost an entire team of good coaches when generations of Irish football teams pass without throwing up even one?

There are no easy answers to these questions, which is all the more reason to ponder them. Even in good times there seems something questionable about the big-money splurge.

When Bilic's Croatia beat Turkey to secure their place at Euro 2012, it signalled the end of Guus Hiddink's turbulent spell as Turkey manager. Hiddink left making excuses, leaving the Turks to count the cost of an eye-popping €4m salary that has to be paid up to July 2012, and led them only down a dead end.

Bilic or Hiddink: which template would you rather follow?

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