Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Time to bury myth that successive Mr Magoos to blame for Irish failure

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

A professional rugby player last week told me of his lifelong dream and I wasn't sure whether to check his temperature or sign a book of condolence.

"I would like to be journaliste," said Jonathan Best, a great barn of a Frenchman who plays in the Grenoble back-row.

Now in the autumn of a proud career, I'd asked him if he planned to go into coaching and he smiled like a man who'd prefer a future breaking stones.

Jonathan told me how, when he was "a little boy of seven," he'd pretend to interview his younger sister in the family home at Roman-sur-lsere. "She could not really speak, so it was funny," he chuckled.

Some time ago, he was commissioned to write a column every month for the rugby journal, 'Midi Olympique', and now declared flatly: "I know this is the job I want to do after rugby."

Romantic

Three days after our conversation, I couldn't help but think of his romantic view of a career writing about sports as we filed down the frozen steps of Lansdowne, seemingly unsure whether to interrogate Giovanni Trapattoni or throw a bag over his head and handcuff him.

Austria's late goal left Ireland's World Cup hopes on life-support, pitching the collective mood from hopeful to discordant.

And, for those filing live copy, this was the gravest inconvenience. Essentially, we had 10 minutes to turn a lullaby into Carmen and, with fingers no longer accepting signals from the central nervous system, that wouldn't be easy.

Still, it was no excuse for rounding on Trapattoni like a motorcycle-gang, which is essentially what the media did on Tuesday night.

The story on Wednesday morning was that he would not be stepping down as Ireland boss, as if this represented some breathtaking chutzpah on the Italian's part.

Now, this column wearies of his old colonel's eccentricities as quick as the next, but the idea that Trap should have resigned this week surely spoke more about an industry's self-delusion than it did about the Irish manager.

You have to wonder is there a comparable case-study anywhere in world football, where – decade after decade – the man at the helm of a national team gets depicted as some kind of hapless Mr Magoo, endlessly dragging his players down.

Through my entire journalistic career, this has been the unchanging soundtrack of Irish football.

The manager is the problem. With someone wiser in charge, our players would play to the sound of trumpets.

Maybe you have to be of a certain age to recognise the recidivism of that conceit.

Just now Wes Hoolahan must live in silent dread of the day Trap finally bows to the populist chorus and starts him in an important game. Because the more Wes gets overlooked, the higher his legend soars.

I happen to think that Trapattoni got a lot of things right last Tuesday night.

After the careless concession of an early goal, his team played with a competitive energy the Austrians, palpably, did not enjoy. Had Shane Long's back-heel not hit the post or had Heinz Lindner not produced a second-half wonder save, this might well have been filed away as the best Irish home performance since the '01 defeat of Holland.

But the third goal did not materialise and Ireland ended up wrestling vainly for control of the football in much the same way England did in Podgorica and, Heaven help us, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all did during their respective defeats on the same night.

I don't know, but I suspect there's the kernel of a clue there.

Eight years ago, Brian Kerr was getting it in the ear for his team squandering leads twice against Israel.

During a 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv, he had perhaps the greatest on-field leader in Premier League history directing operations.

Yet, even with Roy Keane on board, Ireland dropped so deep in the dying minutes, that the concession of an injury-time equaliser ultimately felt self-inflicted.

In the return game at Lansdowne, a two-goal lead was squandered. That October, there were few cries of protest when Kerr got the sack.

Jack Charlton managed Ireland to three major tournaments, yet was accused of vandalising our native art. Mick McCarthy got his team to the '02 World Cup, yet was then bombed out in a popularity contest with Keane. The late Bobby Robson found himself ridiculed on 'Liveline' following a panicked win in San Marino.

And, now, Trapattoni's is the head being hunted.

He's certainly no Orson Welles when speaking English and, clearly, poor communication skills have created avoidable tensions in the Irish dressing-room.

But the concession of a deflected 93rd-minute shot is surely rank poor reason to expect a resignation in the qualifying mid-stream.

Salary

People fixate on Trapattoni's salary when, if anything, it's the salary of his assistant that should be questioned.

Trouble is, the media finds comfort in consensus and the cry for change now gathers unstoppably.

Liam Brady is shouted down on television for suggesting it inappropriate to ask Trap if he's considering his position immediately after missing out on a precious victory by maybe 30 seconds. Worse, Brady feels compelled to ask that his argument not be interpreted as some kind of blind faith in an old colleague.

Trap's time is probably coming to a close right enough, but the media repeated tired old sins this week.

We managed to spin the lie we've been spinning for decades, a fable depicting our football history as some potentially glorious tale reduced to hapless tragicomedy by a succession of bad managers.

Jonathan, mon frère, is this the life for you?

Irish Independent

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